Acton Commentary

Project Pedro Pan and Today’s Manufactured Border Crisis


It is inexcusable to use children for anything, especially political pawns. Yet the Obama administration seems to have no problem doing so in the current border crisis.

Before we examine the current immigration issue and President Obama’s ill-conceived immigration policy, let’s go back to 1960, another crisis and another group of children.

Most people have never heard of Project Pedro Pan. When Fidel Castro brought the horrors of Communism to the island nation of Cuba, parents feared their children would lose their faith, their heritage and suffer indoctrination. Some parents did the unthinkable: They sent their children away, not knowing if they’d be reunited. From the Project Pedro Pan site:

From December 1960 to October 1962, more than fourteen thousand Cuban youths arrived alone in the United States. What is now known as Operation Pedro Pan was the largest recorded exodus of Unaccompanied minors in the Western Hemisphere.

About half of the children were cared for by friends or relatives upon arriving in the United States. The rest were placed in foster care via the Catholic Welfare Bureau, under the guidance of Fr. Bryan Walsh, the Irish priest who orchestrated the exodus. This was made possible because the U.S. government, after breaking off ties with the Castro regime, waived visa requirements for the children, so long as Walsh could find homes for his charges. Two of those children became my foster brother and sister; after nearly five years, José and Lourdes were reunited with their parents, who escaped Cuba via the Swiss embassy.

Today one source conservatively estimates over 47,000 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended trying to cross the U.S. southern border from October to May. The influx of children was apparently stimulated by the Obama administration’s announcement two years ago of sweeping changes to the immigration policy for children.

Under the new policy, people younger than 30 who came to the United States before the age of 16, pose no criminal or security threat, and were successful students or served in the military can get a two-year deferral from deportation, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.

There is no doubt that many of these children are fleeing horrendous situations.  There is also no doubt that many of these children are being used by drug cartels, creating a “highly sophisticated human trafficking network” that our government is encouraging.

Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, who chairs the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on Migration, highlights the problems: “These children are extremely vulnerable to human traffickers and unscrupulous smugglers and must be protected.” Fifty years ago, when parents in Cuba became aware of the monstrosity that awaited their children growing up under a Communist regime, a unique, limited and highly-organized plan allowed them to help their children reach the safe arms of family, friends and foster parents.

The situation today could not be more different. The children today are often at the mercy of coyotes and drug smugglers. Most have no one waiting to give them a home. The Border Patrol is overwhelmed; they’ve become a nanny agency instead of a police agency, forced to care for children, many suffering from illness, abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder. There is no coordinated effort on behalf of social services agencies. In Texas:

When asked if Catholic Charities was in charge of the operation, Julia Sullivan, Hidalgo County’s director of public affairs, said: “Yes, as it should be. It’s their facility.” She added that she was not aware of federal officials reaching out to local officials to alert them about the surge.

Fifty years ago, the issue was about saving children from certain indoctrination and loss of family life and parental guidance. Today, it’s about using children as pawns in the current administration’s plan to widen and deepen the government’s reach. Don’t be fooled: this whole mess is not about children’s safety. It’s about big government. Ben Shapiro explains:

The motivating factor of the left is not caring for the poor but tearing down the wealthy.

[S]o the Democrats will move to bankrupt the system. No welfare state can survive with open borders. That is a truism. And yet that’s exactly what Democrats are now promoting: open borders with a full welfare state. Why? Not because Democrats believe that the homegrown poor in America will be better off with more people joining them on the dole; they won’t. Rather, Democrats love the size and scope of the state and despise the rival the state faces in individual success. A growing welfare base requires higher taxation, more degradation of individual success. That is the goal.

President Obama says that opening our borders will create over 3 million jobs. He doesn’t say how. More than 9 million Americans are currently unemployed: adding 3 million jobs along with an enormous number of undocumented children doesn’t add up. Archbishop Louis Kurtz, president of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference, has called for immigration reform that “properly balances the protection of human rights with the rule of law.” The current policy is sorely lacking on both counts.

Fifty years ago, a brave priest and even braver parents made a heart-wrenching decision to find a better way of life for their children. They did so with the knowledge that the children would be tended to by caring, competent adults who had only the children’s best intentions in mind. Today, tens of thousands of children are being held hostage by political leaders who are trying to game the system to their own advantage. It’s deceitful, disturbing and dangerous.