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Immigration Border Crisis

Border Crisis: When Has the U.S. Provided Refuge for Kids in the Past?

Image: Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, in Brownsville

Children who recently crossed the border sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, in Brownsville, Texas June 18, 2014. POOL / Reuters

More kids than ever before are crossing the southern U.S. border from Central America and Mexico, swamping border stations, requiring the opening of emergency shelters and prompting President Barack Obama to ask Congress for $3.7 billion to cover costs. But it’s not the first time children have ventured to America seeking refuge from disaster, war, violence or political turmoil, requiring government or private intervention. Here's a look back:

KINDERTRANSPORT: Following Kristallnacht, attempts were made to rescue Jewish children who were sent to various countries. The British accepted some 10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children under what was called the “Kindertransport," which took place mostly between 1938 and 1940. The United States, with its strict immigration laws and lack of congressional support for assisting Jewish refugees that reflected the anti-Semitic views of some voters, opened its doors to only about 1,000 or so children from Nazi-occupied countries and did so largely through private groups rather than through an organized government effort.

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PEDRO PAN: More than 14,000 youths arrived in the U.S. from Cuba over nearly two years from December 1961 to October 1962. Many were sent by parents who opposed the Castro regime and feared for their children’s future, a fear that may have been further fostered by U.S. propaganda. The exodus, which has come to be known as Operation Pedro Pan, was coordinated by the Catholic Church and aided by the U.S. government, which granted visa waivers and provided money for the children’s resettlement. Pedro Pan has been considered the largest exodus of children to the United States. Some were reunited with parents or family in the U.S.; most of the Cuban children stayed. Former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican, came to America through the Pedro Pan program.

OPERATION BABYLIFT: The fall of Saigon in Vietnam was just weeks away in April 1975 -- but on April 2 of that year, on a directive from then-President Gerald Ford, the U.S. was to fly thousands of Vietnamese orphans to America. The U.S. government provided $2 million for 30 flights known as Operation Babylift. The first flight out, a military cargo plane, crashed, killing many children aboard, but the airlift continued with most of more than 4,000 children being transported on later flights to the U.S. Some went to Canada. Although the children were believed to be orphans at the time, some parents who followed later took legal action to get their children back.

HAITI EARTHQUAKE: The United States airlifted what were believed to be orphaned children out of Haiti following the 2010 catastrophic earthquake there. President Barack Obama’s administration granted “humanitarian parole” to at least 1,000 Haitian children, many of whom were believed to be in the process of being adopted when the earthquake struck. The airlift drew some criticism, raising questions such as whether all the children were orphans or parental rights were knowingly relinquished. In the end, though, most of the children joined adoptive families.

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