“Are We Not Children Too?”: Race, Media, and the Formative History of Unaccompanied Immigrant Children in the United States
Children migrating without their parents journeyed to American shores long before the establishment of the United States—unaccompanied children traveled on the Mayflower, as well as on an untold number of slave ships. And throughout the first century of the U.S. republic, this form of migration was both sanctioned and willingly facilitated by authorities and the broader public. But in 1887, New York state officials initiated the first governmental restriction on this special class of migrants, to curb the landing of unaccompanied Italian children working as street musicians. This regulation came in the wake of newspapers decrying these children as “white slaves,” latent criminals from broken homes. Such tropes continued into the twentieth century, as Boston’s immigration commissioner sparked a nationwide scandal that led to a mass deportation of Greek children and the creation of the first age-based federal immigration restriction. The Immigration Act of 1907 codified the discretionary powers of authorities to admit certain unaccompanied children, and casefiles created in the following years evince a distinct bias against children from Asia and eastern and southern Europe. The preferential treatment for northern European children facilitated the entrance of a unique group of unaccompanied children in 1919: dozens of French and Belgian refugees who served as mascots for American soldiers in World War I. Immigration officials waived restrictions for these boys, seen as exemplary future citizens, despite warning signs that they were vulnerable to exploitation and abuse upon entry.This dissertation examines how race-based fears fueled by sensational media reports led to the disparate treatment of these most vulnerable immigrants. Drawing from governmental policy records, hundreds of immigration casefiles, and thousands of contemporary newspaper reports surrounding four decades of unaccompanied child migration, I argue that this subjective standard was rooted in fears surrounding racial purity and a desire to maintain “Anglo-Saxon” supremacy. In these first decades of government regulation over unaccompanied child migration, officials’ prejudices regarding a child’s “race” influenced their deployment of discretionary powers to allow entrance of certain unaccompanied children into the United States and prohibit the admission of others, a precedent of inequality that continues today.
MetadataShow full item record
Showing items related by title, author, creator and subject.
Electronic Fetal Monitoring: Lessons From a Formative Case of Health Technology Assessment Banta, H. David; Thacker, Stephen B. (2002-09)