Mother’s Day can be particularly devastating for parents of migrant children.

Last September, I met Mathy, a Sri Lankan refugee in California. Mathy told me her family had been hiding in a tiny apartment in Bangkok.

Early one morning, when she stepped out, immigration police raided and took her four daughters, the youngest being 8 years old, to the infamous Bangkok Immigration Detention Center.

Mathy voluntarily joined her daughters in detention. In the two days they were apart, Mathy said, “I wasn’t able to sleep, I’d hear them talking like they were calling me, knocking at the door.”

Detained in a cell with them and, at times, more than 100 other migrants, Mathy struggled to protect her children when fights broke out between detainees and guards. They were held for two years before the United States eventually resettled them.

Tens of thousands of children every day are in immigration detention around the world.

Arif, an Afghan boy, was detained in Indonesia when he was just 15. “There were eight or nine people beating me,” he said. “Most were guards.”

Other boys held there told me they had been in detention for months without even being able to call home and let their families know where they were.

At 14, Qiao traveled unaccompanied from China to the United States. Smugglers kept her locked up for long periods during her nine-month journey across five countries. One night, she had to fend off a sexual assault from a drunk and violent trafficker.

Some mothers, like Qiao’s, make the difficult decision to send children to migrate alone, leading to parents’ anguish if something goes wrong.

Over and over again, mothers tell me of the pain they feel when they can’t ensure their children’s basic well-being.

The United Nations estimates that worldwide, 5 million children have migrated irregularly — with their families or unaccompanied.

The U.S. government expects that the number of unaccompanied children trying to reach the United States will spike, from 6,560 in 2011 to 60,000 this year.

Migrant children — alone or with their families — frequently risk life and limb in their journey, whether trekking across deserts, hiding in wheel wells or riding unseaworthy boats.

Families don’t make decisions to migrate lightly.

I spoke with Reza, a slim-shouldered 14-year-old Afghan boy with traces of a mustache on his upper lip, in an abandoned house under a bridge in Greece. His father had died, and he, his mother and sisters had been living in poverty in a desolate camp in Iran. They decided Reza should go to Europe to support his remaining family.

Children like Arif, Qiao and Reza — and mothers like Mathy — deserve compassion, not incarceration.

On this Mother’s Day, let’s demand that governments ensure that social welfare ministries — and not immigration departments — address migrant children’s needs.

On this Mother’s Day, let’s insist that governments increase efforts to support unaccompanied children, including ensuring they don’t face criminal penalties for illegal entry.

On this Mother’s Day, no mother should face another night of sleeplessness and anguish.

Alice Farmer researches migrant children’s rights for Human Rights Watch. She can be reached at


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A huge win, it's also just a hit on the pause button. Here's some context and ideas about paths forward.

The reach of this story extends from the lowliest working stiff to the highest court in the land.

White supremacist posters on campuses play on ignorance and fear within the very institutions that should be our...

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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