Methodology / Metodología

The interviews analyzed and excerpted on this blog were conducted in El Salvador from January 2014 to September 2014 at the migrant return center in San Salvador. Two days a week, unaccompanied child migrants who are apprehended in Mexico below the capital are deported there, as are accompanied child migrants apprehended anywhere in Mexico. Unaccompanied children apprehended in northern Mexico are deported by air to El Salvador’s international airport on a less regular schedule.

Through a bilateral agreement between El Salvador and Mexico, a child is not returned until a family member has been contacted in El Salvador and assures that s/he will be at the migrant return center to receive the child. In the nine months we were at the center, no adult came only a handful of times. In almost all of these cases, the child’s mother resided in the US. Migration officials always attempted to locate another family member, sometimes multiple family members, and at times, gave money from their own pockets to make sure the child had enough to eat while s/he waited.

When I began going to the center in January 2014, between five and 20 children were returned on each day. Starting in April 2014, between 30 and 60 were returned, which is when I recruited, trained and greatly benefitted from having Karla, who ended up contributing much more than just assistance with interviews. We had one day when no children arrived and one day when nearly 200 came.  While the busses arrived for two weeks in April in the morning, they typically arrived in the afternoon, or once more started coming, in phases throughout the day. The later busses arrived, the less interviews we could complete since migrants and their families are in a hurry to leave before dark. The return center is in a gang-controlled neighborhood (Quinonez or “La Chacra”), and two people were murdered on the only street that can be used to exit the neighborhood during our nine months doing interviews.

We began interviews with returned children and their family members with basic demographic information like: age, gender and with whom the child lives (and their age, relationship and job). We then asked where they live and what living there is like, with follow up questions about gang, police and military presence, religious involvement, land ownership and remittances. Before transitioning to where their mom and dad are (which is always sensitive since many have a father who has never been active) and where and with whom they wanted to live in the US, we asked if they ever lived anywhere else. Then, we asked if they were actively studying, with a number of follow up questions about public/private, grade, grades received, and if not studying, why not studying. We asked if they were actively working, and if they were, when they began, how much they earned, what they did with the earnings, if they were still able to study, and whether they’d like to be doing something else. After that, we explicitly asked them why they wanted to leave the country. We were usually about 10 to 20 minutes into the interview at that point. Depending on the reason, we then asked reason-specific follow up questions.

Importantly, in my first interviews in January, pressed for time and unsure how long migrants would be willing to talk with me after a long bus ride ending — at least temporarily — a costly dream, I began with this question (why did you want to leave?) and got very short responses. They were typically: to be with my family, to have a better life, and to “seguir adelante.” When I asked for elaboration, many stared and said they had to go. Thus, I structured the aforementioned questions and incorporated them at the beginning of interviews, which yielded much more detailed responses to why they wanted to leave.

Finally, we asked with whom they traveled (coyote/guia, family, friends, other or alone), whether they would try again (most would),  what they hoped to do in the US if they arrived and a few questions about their journey. They were least willing to answer questions about the journey (and about whether they had lived somewhere else), and this is something we will explore more in the follow-up phase. We also asked them why they decided to travel at this point in time (rather than a year or two ago or a year or two in the future) and what they knew about immigration reform, the system for seeking asylum in the US and Mexico, and the system for child migrants in each country.

We have shared the questionnaire that we used with other researchers, government officials, and service providers in multiple countries. Most interviews lasted between 10 and 30 minutes. A few were much longer, and a few were very short. The most children either of us interviewed in one day was 22. On a few occasions, Karla and I completed 40 together. Our goal was to complete interviews with at least 25 percent, which we achieved on all but three days, and on a few days, we interviewed 100 percent.

To protect the identity of migrant participants, I have elected not to list the date on which they were returned, where they hoped to arrive in the US or from where they came in El Salvador.

Karla and I are very thankful to the children and families who told us their stories. We were also incredibly impressed with the DGME officials who received them. We cannot say enough good things about them. They care deeply and were transparent. We greatly appreciate their assistance and kindness to us and to the migrants.


Las entrevistas analizadas y extraídas en este blog se están llevando a cabo en El Salvador,desde enero 2014 hasta agosto 2014. Dos días a la semana, los niños migrantes que fueron detenidos en México son deportados. En estos días, voy al centro de retorno de migrantes y realizo entrevistas a los familiares en espera y sus hijos retornados.

Cuando empecé a ir,en enero de 2014, entre cinco y 20 niños fueron retornados cada día, pero a partir de abril de 2014,entre 30 y el 60 son retornados. Hubo un día que ningún niño llegó, y un día que llegaron 62. En Abril, durante dos semanas, los autobuses llegaron por la mañana, aunque usualmente llegan por la tarde.En las tardes de su llegada, puedo realizar pocas entrevistas porque los migrantes y sus familias tienen prisa por salir antes de que oscurezca. El centro de retorno está en un barrio peligroso (Quiñónez); durante este año, dos personas fueron asesinadas en la única calle que puede ser utilizada para salir del lugar.

Empiezo las entrevistas con información demográfica básica como edad, sexo y con quiénes vive el niño (sus edades y la relación). Luego, pregunto dónde viven y cómo es vivir allí, con preguntas de seguimiento sobre la presencia de pandillas, policía o militar, la participación religiosa, la propiedad de tierras y las remesas. Antes de preguntar dónde está su mamá y su papá (que es siempre delicado, ya que muchos tienen un padre que nunca estuvo involucrado) y dónde y con quién querían vivir en los EE.UU., pregunto si alguna vez vivieron en otro sitio. Luego, pregunto si están estudiando activamente, con una serie de preguntas de seguimiento acerca educación pública/privada, grado de estudio, calificaciones recibidas, y si no estudia, por qué no lo hace. Realizo preguntas similares acerca de si están trabajando activamente. Después de eso, les pregunto explícitamente por qué querían salir del país, y dependiendo de la razón, hago preguntas específicas de seguimiento. Por último, pregunto con quién viajaron (coyote/guía, familia, amigos, otros o solos), si lo intentarán de nuevo (la mayoría lo hará), y lo que esperan hacer en los Estados Unidos, si logran llegar. Me encantaría tener una hora para hacer esto, pero suelo tener entre cinco y 15 minutos solamente.

La mayor cantidad de niños que he entrevistado, individualmente, en un día, es de 22. Cuando la investigadora salvadoreña, Karla Castillo, viene conmigo, podemos obtener hasta de 40. Nuestroobjetivo es completar al menos la mitad de las entrevistas, y si el grupo es grande y hay una entrevistadora, al menos la cuarta parte.

Para proteger la identidad de los migrantes participantes, he optado por no indicar la fecha en que fueron retornados, a donde esperan llegar a los EE.UU. o de donde provienenen El Salvador.

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