Migration of Unaccompanied Migrant Youth

Photo: Eric Gay, AP

Néstor Rodríguez
The University of Texas at Austin

In recent days, the news media has increased the reporting on the large-scale arrival of unaccompanied migrant youth (younger than 18) from Central America at the Texas-Mexico border.  This influx of unaccompanied children and mothers with young children has caught the Border Patrol unprepared, and now the federal government is scrambling to find places to detain the new arrivals.

The enclosed tables based on apprehension figures given by the Border Patrol indicate several features of the migration of unaccompanied Central American children to the United States.

The migration of unaccompanied Central American youth has accelerated especially since 2012, when the percent increase surpassed 100 percent for the three major groups of Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans.

The growth rate of unaccompanied migration is greatest for Honduran youth.

The numbers of apprehended unaccompanied youth nationalities from Central America reached the number of apprehended unaccompanied youth from Mexico in fiscal year[1] 2014.

Poor economic conditions in Central America and social violence by maras and criminal organizations are seen as underlying causes of the migration, or as causes for the fragmentation of communities and families, which puts youth at risk of migration.  Causes for surges in the migrant flow can include the circulation of rumors that the United States is permitting passage into the country for youth, and the work of smuggling networks in promoting this misinformation (the immigration service is placing some youth with their families in the United States but only until their cases are heard).

A study in 1990 found unaccompanied Central American youth experience several harmful, traumatic events during the migration (Rodriguez & Urrutia-Rojas 1990)[2].  Among 60 unaccompanied youth interviewed, 18 percent met criterion for PTSD, but a greater percentage manifested psychiatric disorders (flashbacks, nightmares, emotional numbness, depression, etc.).  On average, the unaccompanied youth experienced 3.7 different potentially traumatic events during the migration, which was about the same number (3.8) of different events they experienced in war zones in their countries during civil wars.  For unaccompanied youth the migration experience is similar to being in a war zone.

The desire to reunite with families is a principal cause of unaccompanied migration by minors.  Hence, as millions of migrants, including parents, remain in the United with undocumented status due to the lack of a comprehensive immigration bill to address the new realities of US immigration, we can expect the large-scale migration of children to continue.

[1] October 1 – September 20
[2] http://www.law.uh.edu/ihelg/monograph/90-4.pdf

Data 1 Nestor Rodriguez

Data 2 NR

Data 3 NR

NestorNéstor P. Rodríguez
Professor, Dept. of Sociology.

Néstor Rodríguez has conducted international research in Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador. His present research focuses on Guatemalan migration, U.S. deportations to Mexico and Central America, the unauthorized migration of unaccompanied minors, evolving relations between Latinos and African Americans/Asian Americans, and ethical and human rights issues of border enforcement. Professor Rodríguez and Susanne Jonas’ upcoming publication, Guatemala-U.S. Migration: Transforming Regions, will be available in January 2015.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position and views of LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections.

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