My grandpa was ‘unaccompanied minor’ to U.S.–in 1907

Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced Monday, July 21, that he will deploy up to <a href=’http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/21/politics/perry-national-guard-border/index.html?hpt=po_t1′>1,000 National Guard troops</a> to the Texas-Mexico border, where tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America have crossed into the United States this year. Perry also wants President Obama and Congress to hire an additional 3,000 border patrol agents to eventually replace the temporary guard forces. “I will not stand idly by,” Perry said. “The price of inaction is too high.”


Editor’s note: Philip Kasinitz is a presidential professor at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is the co-author of “Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age” (with Mary Waters, John Mollenkopf and Jennifer Holdaway) published in 2008.

(CNN) — The situation along the U.S. southern border is complicated. There are no easy answers to the problem of thousands of desperate children, many unaccompanied minors, fleeing chaos, violence and governmental collapse in Central America.

Yet seeing some of my fellow Americans jeering busloads of frightened children and hearing commentators dismiss these children as someone else’s problem has left me wondering exactly what kind of country we have turned into, and how quickly we forget our own history.

My grandfather arrived on Ellis Island in 1907 as an unaccompanied 9-year-old from an impoverished small town in what is now Belarus. The situation he fled was probably less dire than that of many of the Central Americans arriving today. But it was bad enough.

His father had died. His widowed mother’s only alternative to destitution was a quick remarriage, but the presence of the strong-willed boy was a serious impediment to her prospects. So little Chaim was farmed out to his elderly grandmother, for whom he was clearly too much to handle. He continually ran away from home and school, sometimes for days at time.

Chaim became a kind of unlikely Jewish mascot of a local gang of non-Jewish teens. With a child’s unerring instinct of how to get under the skin of his new, strictly observant stepfather, he began to eat pork with his rough companions.

Decades later he would recall his days as a freedom-loving village hooligan with a mischievous grin, but it does not take much historical imagination to understand why the adults around him were terrified. Political violence, anti-Semitic pogroms, criminal gangs and violent state repression were all on the rise in the waning days of the Russian empire. In this dangerous, chaotic time, Chaim must have seemed headed for certain disaster.

The local rabbi was consulted and a course of action was recommended: Send the incorrigible little delinquent off to live with his late father’s cousins in America — a land so full of incorrigible delinquents that one more would scarcely be noticed.

Chaim arrived at Ellis Island penniless and alone. Social workers kept him there until they found a cousin willing to claim him. It didn’t take, however. Sixty years later he told me this cousin had a big beard and reminded him of the teachers and rabbis back in the shtetl that he had run away from in the first place. Whatever the real reason, by age 11 he had run away from the cousin, too, and was more or less on his own for good.

Early days in America were not auspicious. He wandered the streets of New York’s Lower East Side and Brownsville, sleeping in a stable and working for pennies by helping out teamsters on their wagons. In his late teens he became a boxer — never very good — and a bouncer at a saloon.

Only 5-foot-2, he acquired the nickname of “Little Frenchy” a tribute to a street brawler named Frenchy whose fighting style he emulated. The name stuck for the rest of his life. He did stints in orphanages and reformatories and a short one in adult jail, when he lied about his age to avoid the juvenile authorities.

And yet, from this unpromising beginning, an American family sprang. After this rocky start — Frenchy, like many thousands of other one time “unaccompanied minors” — eventually became a very solid American.

He volunteered for the U.S. Army during World War I and became an American citizen. After the war he started a small moving business that grew to be modestly successful, employing about a dozen men. He married a U.S.-born girl whose family came from his hometown. Together they ran the business, raised two sons who later served in the U.S. military and went on to successful careers.

Frenchy and his wife lived to see their grandchildren, who eventually became reasonably decent and productive Americans. And, much to the annoyance of those grandchildren, my grandparents also became knee-jerk patriots, loudly supporting all things American even at the height of the Vietnam War.

Not knowing his real birthday, Frenchy always listed July 4 as his date of birth.

He voted, joined civic groups and paid taxes. Indeed, one of my father’s favorite stories about my grandfather concerned a year in the late 1940s when his accountant told him that after depreciation on his trucks and various other deductions, he owed no federal tax. Frenchy would have none of it. To the accountant’s horror, he insisted on writing a check for the same amount he had paid the previous year.

America had taken him in when he was a hungry, frightened child. Whatever his shortcomings, America had allowed him to prosper by the sweat of his brow. Now a successful man, he was not going to hide behind some accountant’s tricks and shirk his duty to pay his fair share. Paying his share was what a man did. It was what an American did. While he never lost his youthful distaste for organized religion, he had an almost religious belief in the essential goodness of his adopted homeland.

And yes, Frenchy escort broke the rules and occasionally some laws to get here and survive here. If that is a contradiction, it is the kind of contradiction that animates many bursa American lives. That is the kind of country we are, and for the most part, it’s worked out pretty well.

I wonder how many people screaming at frightened children in Murrieta, California, have an ancestor with a similar story. I wonder why so many Americans have forgotten their history. And I wonder, if they are allowed to stay, what sort of Americans will the brave, resilient children on those buses someday become?

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Germany expels U.S. Embassy official amid spying allegations


(CNN) — The German government said Thursday it is expelling a person it describes as the representative of U.S. foreign intelligence services based at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin.

The move comes after two allegations emerged of Germans spying for the United States over the last week, claims prompting an investigation by German prosecutors of a suspect accused of passing secrets.

The call comes against the background of the current investigation by the federal prosecutor and questions that have remained unresolved for months about the activity of U.S. intelligence in Germany.

“The German government views these events as very serious,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

In a statement, Seibert stressed the importance of “mutual trust and openness.”

“It remains essential for Germany, in the interest of the security of its citizens and its armed forces abroad, to cooperate closely on the basis of trust with its western partners, in particular with the USA.” Seibert said the government “is ready to offer that, and expects its closest partners to do the same.”

German prosecutors said Wednesday they are investigating a suspect accused of passing secrets.

“Officers of the federal criminal office have since this morning searched the living and office rooms of an accused in the Berlin area because of initial suspicion of secret service agency activity. They said “an arrest did not take place.”

As a matter of policy, White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to comment on the reported intelligence activity.

“The reason for that is there’s an important principle at stake, which is declining to comment on them publicly allows for the sufficient protection of our national interests, in some cases the intelligence assets, and more generally, American national security,” he said.

Only last week, bursa German prosecutors ordered the arrest of a German citizen on suspicion of spying for foreign intelligence agencies.

On Friday, the German foreign office called in the U.S. ambassador to discuss it.

Both the German escort prosecutor and the foreign office released scarce information then, but officials have spoken in detail with German journalists, who published many reports on the allegations of U.S. spying on the country.

“If the reports are correct, it would be a serious case. If the allegations are true, it would be for me a clear contradiction to what I consider to be a trustful cooperation between agencies and partners,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Her warning came as U.S.-German relations are already shaky in the aftermath of disclosures by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden that showed the United States was listening in on Merkel’s phone calls.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an interview Tuesday with the German news site Spiegel Online, said both countries need to talk about what intelligence collection should be allowed and what might thwart intelligence and security cooperation.

“Clearly, the surveillance on Chancellor Merkel’s phone was absolutely wrong,” she said.

Germany and other friendly countries complained when Snowden’s leaks last year revealed U.S. surveillance of foreign leaders as well as screening of foreign phone calls and Internet contacts in investigating terrorist ties.

The Obama administration responded that all countries conduct surveillance on each other, but the President also has ordered changes in U.S. programs.

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