Month: May 2014

Extensive quote in Politico

You can read the full story (Flood of child migrants a neglected challenge by Politico’s David Rogers) at this link: .

Elizabeth Kennedy, a doctoral candidate at San Diego State University, paints a different picture.

She has studied the crisis from both sides of the U.S. border, including a stint now as a Fulbright fellow in El Salvador. All the Salvadoran children must cross Mexico at some point to get to the U.S. — and many are intercepted and turned back by Mexican authorities. Kennedy has collected over 400 interviews by going to the migrant return center and talking with waiting family members and their children once they arrive.

“Most of the children I meet at the bus return center will try again, and some will reach the United States,” she said. “I’m in contact with 20 who have done so since I got here in October. I’m sure others have arrived and have elected not to stay in contact with me.”

“Over 90 percent of child migrants here have a family member in the U.S,” Kennedy said. “Despite these numbers, less than a third mention family reunification as a reason for emigrating. More often than not, their neighborhood has become so dangerous or they have been so seriously threatened, that to stay is to wait for their own death or great harm to their family. Their neighborhoods are full of gangs. Their schools are full of gangs. They do not want to join for moral and political reasons and thus see no future.”

“In only one of 400-plus interviews did a child migrant ask about the DREAM Act and immigration reform. … Fifteen had heard that the U.S. system treated children differently than adults and wanted to know how. In all 15 cases, the child had received a threat to join the gang or be killed, and some had then been beat or raped when they refused to join.”

“Thus, there is only limited knowledge of the way the U.S. system works for children. U.S. legislation is not driving this emigration. A humanitarian crisis is. We need to accept that when large amounts of people leave a country, this is indicative of untenable problems in that country. … Until the root causes are addressed, it’s going to continue.”

‘The reality is that violence — homicide, rape, kidnapping, extortion, disappearance — is at near an all-time high,” Kennedy said of her time in El Salvador. “And it has a disproportionate impact on young people.”



Puedes leer el artículo completo (Diluvio de niños migrantes, un reto descuidado, por David Roger de Político en este link .

Elizabeth Kennedy, candidata doctoral en la Universidad Estatal de San Diego, pinta un cuadro diferente.

Ella ha estudiado la crisis desde ambos lados de la frontera de EE.UU., incluyendo ahora una estancia como becaria Fulbright en El Salvador. Todos los niños salvadoreños deben cruzar México en algún momento para llegar a los EE.UU. — y muchos son interceptados y retornados por las autoridades mexicanas. Kennedy ha realizado más de 400 entrevistas yendo al centro de retorno de migrantes y hablando con los familiares en espera y con sus niños retornados, una vez que llegan.

“La mayoría de los niños que me encuentro en el centro de retorno por  autobús, lo intentarán de nuevo, y algunos llegarán a Estados Unidos”, dijo. “Estoy en contacto con 20 que lo han logrado desde que llegué aquí, en octubre. Estoy segura de que otros han llegado y han optado por no estar en contacto conmigo”.

“Más del 90 por ciento de los niños y niñas migrantes aquí tienen un miembro de la familia en los EE.UU.”, dijo Kennedy. “A pesar de estos números, menos de un tercio mencionó reunificación familiar como la razón para emigrar. Más a menudo, sus barrios se han vuelto tan peligrosos o han sido seriamente amenazados, que quedarse es esperar la propia muerte o un gran daño para sus familias. Sus barrios están llenos de pandillas. Sus escuelas están llenas de pandillas. Ellos no quieren unirse a estas, por razones morales y políticas y,  por lo tanto no ven un futuro”.

“En sólo una de las más de 400 entrevistas realizadas, un niño migrante preguntó sobre el DREAM Act y la reforma migratoria. … Quince habían oído que el sistema de los EE.UU. trataba a los niños de manera diferente que a los adultos y querían saber cómo. En los 15 casos, el niño había recibido una amenaza para unirse a la pandilla o ser asesinado, y algunos, luego habían sido golpeados o violados por haberse negado a unirse. ”

“Por lo tanto, sólo hay un conocimiento limitado de la forma en que el sistema de los EE.UU. trabaja para los niños. La legislación de EE.UU. no está conduciendo esta emigración. Es una crisis humanitaria. Tenemos que aceptar que cuando grandes cantidades de personas dejan un país,  es un indicativo de problemas insostenibles en ese país. … Mientras no se aborden las causas profundas, esto va a continuar”.

“La realidad es que la violencia – el homicidio, la violación, el secuestro, la extorsión, la desaparición – están en su máximo en la historia”, dijo Kennedy de su tiempo en El Salvador. “Y tienen un impacto desproporcionado en los jóvenes.”


Gang threats, insecurity and violence

I’ll be adding much greater detail to this post in the coming days, but I wanted to share the initial findings I presented at a closed-door, regional round table on organized crime and forced migration from 22 to 23 May.

60.1% (198) of Salvadoran child migrants were leaving the country because of threats, insecurity or violence. Nearly half of 322 live in a neighborhood that a gang controls, 130 attend a school with a gang presence across the street, and 100 attend a school with gangs inside. 70 quit school because they did not feel safe at school, and another 30 did not feel safe anywhere and were essentially locking themselves inside all day.



Agregaré mucho más detalle a esta publicación en los próximos días, pero quise compartir los hallazgos iniciales que presenté a puerta cerrada, la mesa redonda regional sobre crimen organizado y migración forzada del 22 al 23 de mayo.

60.1% (198) de los niños salvadoreños migrantes abandonaron el país por amenazas, inseguridad y violencia. Cerca de la mitad de 322 viven en vecindarios con control pandilleril, 130 asisten a escuelas con presencia de pandillas sobre la calle, y 100 asisten a escuelas con pandillas al interior. 70 abandonaron la escuela porque no se sentían seguros, y otros 30 no se sienten seguros en ningún lado y estaban esencialmente encerrados todo el día.


Why Salvadoran children are emigrating in 2014

My interviews with Salvadoran children attempting to emigrate to Belize (1), Mexico (3) or the United States (319) are consistent with recent reports and articles in that most children described more than one reason for their emigration. Forty-one girls (38.7%) and 77 boys (35.5%) listed two reasons. Fifteen girls (14.1%) and 36 boys (16.6%) gave three reasons, and three boys (1.4%) gave four reasons. Forty-eight girls (45.3%) and 96 boys (44.2%) mentioned only one reason.

The largest number (196 or 60.1%) are leaving because of crime, gang threats, insecurity or violence. Sixty-six girls (62.3%) left for these reasons. Many were recently asked to be a gang member’s girlfriend, and a few had been raped as threats escalated. Several were being threatened with death if they did not join the gang present in their neighborhood or school. Seven more had family members who were threatened by gangs. Nineteen feared what could happen to them if they stayed, although they acknowledged nothing has happened yet. 130 boys (59.9%) fled for the same reasons. Most were being threatened with death if they did not join the gang present in their neighborhood or school, and some had been physically assaulted as these threats escalated. Ten had family members who were threatened by gangs. Forty-six feared what could happen, although they acknowledged nothing has happened yet.

Somewhat surprisingly, a larger percentage of girls than boys flee for these reasons. In the future, I will analyze data by department (and cities within departments), family abroad and homicide rates. Whereas males more frequently mentioned being murdered as the worst possible outcome, females more frequently mentioned disappearance or rape as the worst possible outcomes. Homicides are fairly well documented by the press here, but disappearances — for obvious reasons — are not well evidenced.

The next largest number (113 or 35%) wanted to reunify with a family member. As you may remember from an earlier post, over 90% have a family member in their desired destination, so it is notable that so few explicitly referenced reunification as a goal. Forty-nine girls (46.2%) and 64 boys (29.5%) wanted to reunify, usually with their mom, dad, or mom and dad. Thus, why more girls than boys mentioned it also deserves exploration. In the future, I will examine the age, origin, destination, and other reasons for migrating to shed further light.

The third largest group (102 or 31.6%) wanted to study. Thirty-one girls (29.2%) and 71 boys (32.7%) mentioned this. Of the major causes, it was the least likely to be cited alone. I am especially surprised that fewer girls mentioned this goal than boys, because most boys cannot articulate a desired career, whereas most girls can when we talk.

The fourth largest group (88 or 27.2%) wanted to work. Thirteen girls (12.3%) and 75 boys (34.6%) hoped to find a job and remit money to their family in El Salvador. As could be expected, more males than females had this goal, and all who mentioned this were 15 years of age or older. Unexpectedly, most who wanted to work believed they could study half the day and work the other half, since here the school day is between two and four hours. Among young children traveling with adults, they mentioned poverty. A larger percentage of girls (6.6%) than boys (3.7%) mentioned this in interviews. Departmental analysis and family context will yield further insights.

The fifth largest groups named abuse (10 or 3.1%) or adventure (10 or 3.1%). Five girls (4.7%) and five boys (2.3%) were past or current victims of various forms of abuse. Unfortunately, these numbers are likely underreported. I rarely get to conduct interviews alone with children, and the likelihood that they would disclose abuse in front of their abuser or someone complicit in their abuse is low. Recent reports have indicated that 10-20% of unaccompanied child migrants leave the home because of domestic or interfamilial violence. One girl (0.9%) and nine boys (4.1%) said they wanted to migrate in order to see other parts of the world.

While a few other isolated causes were mentioned once or twice (find a wife, explore sexuality, medical care, buy a house, flee an impending volcano eruption), a group of four were returning to their lives. One female (0.9%) had resided in Mexico with her family for years and was headed back there. Four males (1.4%) had lived in different parts of the US for five or more years. For all four, they had tried to reside in El Salvador and experienced a number of difficulties, which pushed them to emigrate again.

Salvadoran Child Migrants’ Desired Hosts

As the post on where Salvadoran children hope to arrive indicated, most Salvadoran child migrants want to reach the United States. Only three (0.9%) wanted to stay in Mexico. Two of the three were sisters joining their mother who fled their alcoholic father/husband. One was returning to her father and siblings in Mexico with her mother. They fled El Salvador for safety in Mexico three years earlier.

The attendant question is with whom do child migrants want to live in the United States? Over 90 percent wanted to live with a family member, from a mom or dad, to an aunt or uncle, to a brother or sister, to a grandmother or grandfather, to a cousin. Eighteen (5.6%) did not have family in the United States: three girls (2.8%) and 15 boys (6.9%). They either planned to go where they had friends or were traveling with their mom, dad and siblings. Nine (2.8%) did not responde: one girl (0.9%) and eight boys (3.7%).

More than half (165 or 51.2%) wanted to live with their mom, dad or mom and dad. Eleven girls (10.4%) and 18 boys (8.3%) planned to reunify with their mom and dad, who are still together. Thirty-six girls (34%) and 52 boys (24.1%) would reunify with only their mom. Twelve girls (11.3%) and 36 boys (16.7%) would reunify with only their dad. Noticeably then, a larger percentage of girls wanted to reunify with their mom, and a larger percentage of boys wanted to reunify with their dad.

Twenty-three percent (73) planned to live with an aunt or uncle. Fourteen girls (13.2%) and 26 boys (12%) will live with an aunt. Seven girls (6.6%) and 26 boys (12%) will live with an uncle. Again, a noticeably larger percentage and number of boys than girls wanted to live with their uncle.

Twenty-six (8.7%) wanted to live with a sister or brother. Nine girls (8.5%) and 12 boys (5.6%) wanted to live with their sister. One girl (0.9%) and six boys (2.8%) wanted to live with their brother. Thus, again, a larger percentage and number of boys than girls wanted to live with their brother, their male family member.

Twenty (6.2%) want to live with a grandmother or grandfather. Seven girls (6.6%) and five boys (2.3%) want to live with their grandmother. One girl (0.9%) and five boys (2.3%) will live with their grandfather. Once again, a larger percentage and number of boys than girls plan to live with their male family member.

Finally, twelve (3.7%) plan to live with a cousin: four girls (3.8%) and eight boys (3.7%).

I asked participants if their family members had legal status and listed the following options for them to choose: citizenship, residence, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), work permit, other, or none. In response, they always paused, looked at each other and seemed to respond randomly. Some correlated length of stay with whether they thought their family member had legal status. For example, many assumed that if their family member lived in the US for 10 or more years, s/he had residence. Others assumed that if their family member had visited, s/he had citizenship. As a result, I may not include these responses in my analysis, although I will likely post them here. I think, ideally, I should follow up with family members in the US to clarify their status.

Age and gender of Salvadoran child migrants

While 323 interviews have been transcribed, translated and coded, I did not record whether the participant was male or female in one interview. This post is thus based on 322 interviews.

106 (33%) children were female, and 216 (67%) were male. This breakdown is slightly more equal than for those of unaccompanied child migrants who are detained by CBP or ICE in the United States. In the US, about 25% of child migrants are female and 75% are male. A few reasons for the difference between origin and destination are possible.

First, more girls may cross into the US without detection. From my interactions with 300 unaccompanied child migrants in the US, it was more common for the girls to take busses and cars on their journey, whereas many of the teenage boys rode the train. The latter form of migration indicates a lack of resources and would make crossing undetected nearly impossible. A later post will report with whom children were traveling, although not all admit to traveling with a coyote or guia if they were traveling with one.

Second, more girls may decide not to make the journey after being deported from Mexico. No one knows what percentage of deportees from Mexico or the US attempt the journey again, but numerous studies have verified that many migrants attempted the crossing three or more times before successfully reaching the US. Females are vulnerable to greater abuse along the journey and may be dissuaded from trying again if one of their attempts involved either being rape or seeing rape.

Third, even if they are not dissuaded, their family members may be more dissuaded from letting them attempt the journey again if it is unsuccessful the first time. Broadly, girls often have less autonomy than males in sending countries, so adult caretakers could exert more influence on their decisions than on male’s.

Fourth, the repercussions girls face after deportation may not be equivalent to those boys encounter. Here, the causes of emigration will be particularly important, and I will start making these posts soon.

Interestingly, a larger percentage — and equal number — of girls than boys traveled under the age of 12.  Thirty girls (28%) were between the ages of one and 12. While thirty boys were within the same age range, they only constituted 14% of the male child migrants. Whereas at least one girl at every age from one to 12 migrated, no boys migrated at age six or 10 among boys.

Similarly, a larger percentage — and equal number — of girls aged 13 and 14 migrated than boys aged 13 and 14. Eleven (10.4%) girls migrated at age 13, and 13 (12.3%) migrated at age 14, compared to 10 boys (4.6%) at age 13 and 15 (6.9%) at age 14.

However, a larger percentage of — and two or more times as many — boys aged 15, 16, and 17 migrated than girls at the same ages. At age 15, 25 males (11.6%) and 10 females (9.4%) migrated. At age 16, 56 males (25.9%) and 15 females (14.1%) migrated. At age 17, 72 males (33.3%) and 26 females (24.5%) migrated.

Through 2013, in the US, about 80 percent of unaccompanied child migrants in Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters were between the ages of 14 and 17. Seventy-two percent of my participants fall into that range, and 78.5 percent are between 13 and 17. I did not expect that an equal number of girls and boys were migrating between the ages of one and 14. The post on their traveling partners and causes of emigration will provide insight.


Where Salvadoran Children Hope to Arrive

With 323 interviews with Salvadoran children deported from Mexico transcribed, translated and coded, I’ll be making several posts about origin, destination and cause in the coming days. Because the Foreign Ministry here is interested in where Salvadoran communities are largest in the US, I am delivering this information first.

301 of 323 (93.2%) wanted to reunite with a family member or close friend who s/he considered family in the United States. The largest number (12%) wanted to go to New York. Of the 39 children who hope to arrive there, 10 are female and 29 are male. The second largest number (11.8%) wanted to end up in Los Angeles, California or Houston, Texas. Of the 38 kids hoping to reach LA, 14 are female and 24 are male. Of the 38 hoping to reach Houston, 17 are female and 21 are male. In fourth, 31 (9.6%) wanted to go to Virginia, 13 of whom are female and 18 of whom are male. In fifth, eight females and 11 males wanted to be in Maryland, for a total of 19 (5.9%). Twelve (3.7%) were headed for Dallas, Texas: four females and eight males. Another eleven (3.4%) hoped to arrive to Atlanta, Georgia: two females and nine males. Boston, Massachusetts followed as the eighth most common destination, with 10 children (3.1%) headed there: two females and eight males. Rounding out the top ten are North Carolina and Tennessee, where nine (2.8%) each wanted to arrive: four females and five males to NC and two females and seven males to TN. Other locations with five or more include: Washington, DC, New Jersey, and San Francisco, CA.

As you can see, the list is a mixture of states and cities. Children — and their family members — were often unable to name a city within a state, with cities in California and Texas being the exceptions. Specifically, if participants were headed for “Washington,” they struggled to state whether they meant the state or city. Fifteen of 323 (4.6%) were unsure where in the United States they would live. Nine (2.8%) said they were going to live with both parents, even though their separated or divorced parents lived in states hundreds of miles from each other (for example, California and New York or Florida and Texas). Six (1.9%) did not know where their relative lived.

Ten of 323 (3.1%) wanted to arrive to the United States but do not have family or friends there. They also could not name a city or state where they hoped to reside.

Three of 323 (0.9%) wanted to stay in Mexico. All three were females and were traveling with other family members who had already resided there for two years or more. One family fled El Salvador when they could no longer pay the neighborhood gang’s renta, and the other left to escape their husband/father’s abuse.

Finally, nine of 323 (2.8%) did not respond to this question. In reality, their bus was leaving, and we ran out of time. Everyone to whom I’ve posed the question has responded.

Open Borders: Economically and Morally Right

George Mason University economics professor, Bryan Caplan, has long been a proponent of open borders. In his recent econlog entry (, he repeats several points he’s made before to attempt persuading those who currently support border regulation. Not surprisingly, his arguments have a strong economic focus: from increasing global GDP and worker productivity, to regulating which jobs migrants can take, to protecting native workers from job loss, to ensuring migrant labor supplies native demand.

He does, however, start with a critical point: closed borders are in direct opposition to a free and open society.

Caplan writes that the extent to which we get to live in a free and open society is largely determined by who our parents are and where they live. Indeed, many in the global South have no hope of getting a visa to legally travel to the global North because of requirements to prove a certain level of economic stability.

At the migrant centers here, I’ve met a number of Salvadorans who have resident or citizen family members in the United States who could sponsor their visa applications. Yet, I meet all of them because they elected to travel without documents. Some attempted to obtain a visa and were rejected, with no explanation and at the loss of one or two month’s salary. Instead of traveling safely and buying a plane ticket, they risk their lives and wellbeing and often pay thousands of dollars more to a coyote (human smuggler) who is likely tied into an organized criminal network. So besides being economically bad for business and conversely good for crime, close borders cheapen human life.

This is morally unacceptable. The decision to deny a visa and to deny a safe option for travel is a death warrant for hundreds of migrants each year. For others, it will mean rape, loss of limb or assault. And for nearly all, it will mean robbery and bearing witness to someone else’s trauma. At the same time, it ensures the division of families, which disproportionately affects children. They will spend years feeling something or someone missing and will likely embark on the dangerous journey themselves when no legal options exist for a family visit.

One of the youth I’ve highlighted in the Migrant Return Center Report said that he wanted to migrate to the U.S. to attempt becoming an actor. After he said those words to me, he asked: why is it that you can come here [to El Salvador], but I cannot go there [the United States]? The only answer I could give him: the world is unjust.

I knew my privilege before I got here, and yet, that conversation still sticks with me. Many migrants I meet here will attempt that dangerous journey again, and some will be harmed greatly or die doing so. Yet, Western politicians fail to see this human security element at the same level of importance as the border security element.