Why do Unaccompanied Minors Try to Come to the U.S.? They’re Fleeing Violence, Gangs and Poverty…and Looking for Family Members

Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Child Immigrant Detainees in Brownsville, Texas (photo: Eric Gay, AP)

The swelling wave of minors trying to cross into the United States without their parents from Central America has produced much debate and even complaints, with little regard for understanding why tens of thousands of children would make such a dangerous trek on their own.


As fraught with danger such a journey can be, these unaccompanied youths have been compelled for many reasons to seek refuge in the U.S.


Violence back home is one huge explanation for the exodus from countries like Honduras, which has the highest murder rate of any nation in the world, according to a report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service (CRS).


Other Central American countries from which children are fleeing include El Salvador and Guatemala, which not only struggle with high crime and gang activity but also poverty. Forty-eight percent of unaccompanied children, when interviewed by the UN Refugee Agency, gave societal violence as a primary reason for fleeing their home country. For children from El Salvador, the number was 66%.


Another factor is poverty. Two thirds of Hondurans are poor, while the rates aren’t much better for Guatemalans (55%) and Salvadorans (45%).


Another powerful motivator for kids to travel hundreds of miles under difficult conditions is to find relatives who have settled in the U.S. Eighty-one percent of unaccompanied children gave “family or opportunities” as a reason for their coming to the United States.


“Family reunification is reported to be one of the key motives of unaccompanied children,” the report states. “Many have family members among the sizable Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran foreign-born populations residing in the United States.”


These factors help to explain why the number of “unaccompanied child apprehensions” has ballooned along the U.S.-Mexico border. The total went from 8,000 six years ago to 52,000 and counting so far in 2014. Officials anticipate that, by year’s end, the number will have reached 74,000.


“Since 2012, children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (Central America’s “northern triangle”) account for almost all of this increase,” CRS analysts say.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Unaccompanied Alien Children: Potential Factors Contributing to Recent Immigration (by William A. Kandel, Andorra Bruno, Peter J. Meyer, Clare Ribando Seelke, Maureen Taft-Morales and Ruth Ellen Wasem, Congressional Research Service) (pdf)

70,000 Kids Will Show Up Alone at Our Border This Year. What Happens to Them? (by Ian Gordon, Mother Jones)

What to do about Children Illegally Crossing into the U.S. Alone? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


Todd P 2 years ago
But the problem is these children are bringing the same violence, drugs, gangs and diseases with them into the US they are running away from. So this means they this is a lie. If it were true the US government would be stopping drug dealers and violent gang members from coming over the border and stop ordering Border patrol to release the ones they caught back into the US. There have been murders and crimes from these gang members almost everyday now in the US on the borders as these criminals break into homes, rape, beat and murder Americans. This is why it is up to the people of this country to secure our borders for the safety of our families and our country.

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