Child Migrants in 20th-Century America
- Ivón Padilla-RodríguezIvón Padilla-RodríguezDepartment of History, Columbia University Latinx Research Center, University of California, Berkeley
Child migration has garnered widespread media coverage in the 21st century, becoming a central topic of national political discourse and immigration policymaking. Contemporary surges of child migrants are part of a much longer history of migration to the United States. In the first half of the 20th century, millions of European and Asian child migrants passed through immigration inspection stations in the New York harbor and San Francisco Bay. Even though some accompanied and unaccompanied European child migrants experienced detention at Ellis Island, most were processed and admitted into the United States fairly quickly in the early 20th century. Few of the European child migrants were deported from Ellis Island. Predominantly accompanied Chinese and Japanese child migrants, however, like Latin American and Caribbean migrants in recent years, were more frequently subjected to family separation, abuse, detention, and deportation at Angel Island. Once inside the United States, both European and Asian children struggled to overcome poverty, labor exploitation, educational inequity, the attitudes of hostile officials, and public health problems. After World War II, Korean refugee “orphans” came to the United States under the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 and the Immigration and Nationality Act. European, Cuban, and Indochinese refugee children were admitted into the United States through a series of ad hoc programs and temporary legislation until the 1980 Refugee Act created a permanent mechanism for the admission of refugee and unaccompanied children. Exclusionary immigration laws, the hardening of US international boundaries, and the United States preference for refugees who fled Communist regimes made unlawful entry the only option for thousands of accompanied and unaccompanied Mexican, Central American, and Haitian children in the second half of the 20th century. Black and brown migrant and asylum-seeking children were forced to endure educational deprivation, labor trafficking, mandatory detention, deportation, and deadly abuse by US authorities and employers at US borders and inside the country.