Between You and Me: History may be sending us a solution to...

Between You and Me: History may be sending us a solution to our border and underpopulation crises

President Kennedy greets Peace Corps volunteers in 1961. Wikipedia

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Here is an idea that you may find goofy. It has to do with the unaccompanied young people hoping to enter the United States at our southern border and our sperm count crisis.

I don’t know how many of you remember when President John F. Kennedy called to our young and proposed the Peace Corps initiative exactly 60 years ago. How we responded stands as one of our finer moments as a nation. 

In that program, those wanting to make a difference in the world could volunteer to work in other countries on health campaigns, encourage entrepreneurship or teach English to name a few possible jobs. 

Today, the opportunity still exists to serve in over 141 countries (as of 2018), and what was required then still is: resiliency and heart. Those who entered the two-year program had appropriate skills and found the experience gratifying, even life changing.

Now I propose turning the idea on its head. The unaccompanied minors gathered at the border, mostly 16-to-17-year-old males, probably have little in the way of skills except for two assets: youthful energy and desperation. These are both of powerful value.

The government could offer them the following path into the country: They would agree to be assigned to families in different cities and towns and to help those families as directed. This proposition might be of particular aid in agricultural settings but certainly not limited to those. They would not be paid but would enter into a work-study program in which they might gain education, room and board. They would provide much needed work to those who have lost immigrant helpers on farms, in hospitality jobs and childcare, for example, over the past few years due to limitations on foreign workers imposed by the government. 

In return for their efforts, these young people would earn, in due time, a path to citizenship, just as there once was an offer to foreign-born males during WWII to enter the army in return for naturalization. There is still such a pathway today which they could eventually opt for.

A reverse Peace Corps program would require a complex administration in which the families offering such a position would be carefully vetted, as would the young people entering the country. And monitoring within the country would of necessity be in-depth and ongoing. The young people would have to be protected from gangs seeking to force them into their ranks, as well as from exploitive families. Duties would have to be carefully laid out, with hours and goals met. 

It occurs to me that there have been such immigration programs in history, most recently the Kindertransport that brought some 10,000 children up to the age of 17, whose lives were in mortal danger from Nazi atrocities, to England between 1938-1939. After the war, several thousand remained in Britain, and as adults “made considerable contributions to Britain’s services, industries, commerce, education, science and the arts for the defense, welfare and development of their country of adoption.” [Wikipedia.]

Now back to our own situation. Not unrelated, there has been a serious drop in births in the United States over the past half century, in part due to economic circumstances and even to declining sperm count as a result of ongoing pollution. We have learned from previous recessions that for every one percent increase in unemployment, there is a reduction of one percent in the birthrate. 

The current pandemic is anticipated to bring a baby bust, not a baby boom. Even before COVID-19, underpopulation was expected by some researchers, as our falling birthrate was most recently below the 2.1 babies per woman (2019) required to sustain our population through birth alone.

We are, after all, a nation of immigrants, and those seeking to enter our country, by and large, bring the aforementioned energy and grit, determined to realize the “American Dream.” They are an easy way to solve the need for more people. The ultimate goal here is for any such policy to be done according to the law.