__”In Los Angeles, [migrant] children stitch “Made in America” tags into J. Crew shirts,” the New York Times reports.  “They bake dinner rolls sold at Walmart and Target, process milk used in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and help debone chicken sold at Whole Foods. As recently as the fall, middle-schoolers made Fruit of the Loom socks in Alabama. In Michigan, children make auto parts used by Ford and General Motors.”

No one chooses to be a migrant, a refugee, an undocumented person with no rights whose life at every moment hangs by a fragile thread.  No one wants to beg for asylum in unknown lands if their own homeland appears secure.

No one in Central America spends a lifetime of earnings to send alone a 12-year-old child whom they love on a trek of over 2,000 miles that could take three or four months, if they could safely feed and shelter their family at home.

No one sends their oldest child, as my father was sent, if life in their homeland is safe and secure, with opportunities for education and employment for their children.

When my father, as oldest son, was sent by his family at age 9, to America, he was alone and spoke no English. He travelled from Beirut, Syria (as it was known at the time) to Lawrence MA, via Ellis Island, arriving in 1910 to join the large Arab community there. He immediately went to work in one of the textile mills and shoe shops built along the Merrimack River.

As many millions did before him he went to work in pursuit of Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness, and to have and support a family, which he did well and with love.

As so many millions who followed after him who also believed that all people are created equal.

My father was nearly 40 by the time the American government passed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 which established the concept of minimum wages, a 40-hour maximum workweek, a minimum working age of 16, and specifically prohibited “oppressive child labor.” FLSA regulated the hours which children may work and was designed to ensure that young people work safely and that their employment didn’t jeopardize their health, well-being or educational opportunities.

FLSA was too late to help my father and millions of others but it was a start; a consideration of a solution to a problem that to this day seemingly is not fully addressed – especially for poor and migrant communities.

Today, nearly 100 years after FLSA, too many people are still be being un-helped, too many children being exploited by traffickers, profiteers, and abusers, a not uncommon problem exacerbated by recent reports of wide-spread child labor across America.

The New York Times story revealed that one company alone, Packers Sanitation Services Inc. LTD, of Wisconsin, employed 102 children at 13 meat processing plants in eight states; children who cleaned blood and animal body parts off floors, children who cleaned dangerous meat processing equipment at night using hazardous chemicals and tried to go to Middle School days.

Children working to send money home to their families, to the ones left behind.

Children who quite possibly, according to DHS, were trafficked specifically to provide labor for companies willing to skirt the federal and state laws against child labor and endangerment.

The youngest was 13.

Why is anyone surprised?

Why is anyone surprised that a nation that was built in part on enslaved, indentured, and exploited labor has not completely abandoned its free enterprise roots by capitalizing on cheap labor?

These children fit that role perfectly.

We live today in a New Hampshire that last year rejected a proposal to provide an additional daily meal to children from low-income families, a state that refuses to raise the minimum wage for workers.

We live today in a United States of America where millions of people may soon see cuts to food stamp benefits as pandemic aid ends. For families enrolled in SNAP cuts could reduce benefits by an average $182 / month, perhaps threatening the health of 31 million low-income people while grocery prices remain unusually high.

Is it any wonder that there is child labor in America?

We live in a nation where some people believe the sanctity of life ends at birth.

We’re better than that.

I believe that today we live in a nation where a substantial number of citizens believe that their white Christian evangelical nation is under assault, that patriotism, law and order, and family values – as they define them – and cursive handwriting are no longer as valued as they should be.

I believe that today we live in a nation where the shining city on the hill, its golden dome polished by generations of immigrants – all yearning to be free – is being assaulted by mendacious insurrectionists, racists, and white supremacists who would rather attack teachers and librarians than confront greed and corruption. 

We’re better than that.

Next Sunday Daylight Saving Time begins. Spring follows, as do Ramadan, Passover, and Easter. It’s a time of light, of renewal and regrowth, a time to stand with the hungry, the weak, the vulnerable, and the sojourner.

We stand with them all, stand with with my father, because that’s who we are.