New Report Helps Explain Why Central American Children Are Leaving Their Home Countries

shutterstock_187482242Ever since President Barack Obama described the record number of minors traveling alone and crossing the U.S.-Mexico border as an “urgent humanitarian situation requiring a unified and coordinated Federal response,” the debate about how to address the unaccompanied migrant children has become increasingly heated, especially about the reasons leading them to come here. News reports and congressional hearings have covered various arguments to explain the reasons behind these children’s journeys. Unfortunately, what becomes clear is that many of those arguments are not backed by any factual evidence, and, what is even worse, some are intentionally aimed at derailing the eventual overhaul of our broken immigration system.

In an attempt to help fill the knowledge gap, the American Immigration Council is releasing a study today that was conducted by Elizabeth Kennedy, a Fulbright Fellow currently doing research in El Salvador on child and youth migrants returned from Mexico and the United States. Based on evidence obtained through 322 interviews with children recently returned to El Salvador, as well as conversations with journalists and local, regional, and government officials, this report sheds light on some of the structural conditions that compel minors to migrate to the United States or other countries in the region.

In essence, the report highlights the intricate ways in which violence, extreme poverty, and the desire to reunite with family members, help shape these kids’ decision to migrate. According to the report, “crime, gang threats, or violence appear to be the strongest determinants for children’s decision to emigrate. When asked why they left their home, 59 percent of Salvadoran boys and 61 percent of Salvadoran girls list one of those factors as a reason for their emigration.” In El Salvador, the report shows, the issue of gang violence is a widespread phenomenon. According to the findings, gang violence appears as the primary cause of emigration in 11 of 14 of El Salvador’s departments. In the departments of Cuscatlán and Usulután for example, over 85 percent of children flee for this reason.

Violence alone, however, does not explain the phenomenon of kids’ migration in its entirety. In some regions of El Salvador, for example, extreme poverty is identified as the most common reason for why children decide to leave. In addition, about 35 percent of the minors interviewed reported family reunification as a reason for their emigration, but in many of those cases the desire to reunite with a family member in the U.S. is cited in addition to the fear of crime and violence.

Crossing the border is an immensely risky journey. Given that being smuggled into the United States can itself end in death, it stands to reason that conditions must be extremely dire for Central American parents to send their children on such a dangerous journey. In fact, the report specifically demonstrates that leaving the country is, for these children (and their families), often a last resort. Children, furthermore, are not just coming to the United States in search of protection. According to UNHCR, a steep rise has also been observed in the numbers of asylum requests in in the neighboring countries of Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, and Mexico.

All in all, the study highlights the fact that the majority of these children are in an extremely vulnerable situation. In this context, militaristic solutions are clearly not the answer.

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  • Leah oviedo

    All the reasons they are migrating sound a lot like Lady Liberty’s sonnet “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore…” Words I would like to think hold as much promise now as they did when we learned this in school.

  • PastorKevin McLemore

    Yeah they should. However, no society can shoulder the enormity of this crisis now with 47,000 MONTHLY. We just can’t increase populations by 4-5 million annually. That’s not at all feasible.

  • damifinoone2

    Why don’t we just take in every child from every country in the world? I only have one question. Who’s going to pay for it?

    • rick

      The US has a net worth of $100T. We have plenty of money. I agree with you, that doesn’t mean we should take care of S. America’s children.

  • David

    We’re talking about up to 300,000 children here illegally – many without parents. It has already been shown that most of them carry diseases and infestations – from measles to head lice. Let’s say you let them stay here. What in the world are you going to do with them all? They obviously aren’t old enough to work – and are probably unskilled. They can’t rent an apartment, nor drive a car. Do they become wards of whatever state Obama forces them upon (as he did with the ones in Texas – forcing them upon the good people of Murietta, California?). Do they roam the streets? Sleep in boxes? Are they to be rounded up into camps or concrete facilities? Liberals think they have all the answers – let’s just let them stay. The consequences of their actions never seem to occur to them.

  • Bob

    This article intimated that “some are intentionally aimed at derailing the eventual overhaul of our broken immigration system.” I think the President and those that want immigration reform now are using this tragedy to push their agenda. This is all politics. The President can reverse the 2008 law and treats everyone equally just like the Mexicans and Canadians and would be returned home immediately. This should send a signal to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that coming here does not gurantee a stay and a hearing of their case which could take take up to 580 days..first and foremost is to secure the borders.

  • nicki

    i don’t know these children may need help but we don’t need to put our country at risk of attack.

    • rick

      How can Central Americans pose a threat to the US? It’s likely that even 911 wasn’t wholly a terrorist attack.

  • rick

    The motivators for the migration of Central American children put forth in this article is not my experience. I spent 25 years in California, splitting my time between LA and San Fran. My conversations with 20 yo immigrants, who had been in the US for 4-5 years, clearly indicated the mother’s of large family’s pushing their youngest, male children to immigrate. The instructions to these children were to go to the US, make money, get some education, integrate into society, and become a citizen if possible. To a person, each of these immigrants sent money to their families in their countries of origin … almost always at the request of their mothers. The family’s father and older siblings were the dominant stabilizers of the family left behind, but weren’t able/willing to help the mother care for the younger children. Hence the migration, but always with the intention of reuniting.

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