Migrant Children Crossing the U.S.-Mexico Border


Thousands of migrant children, also known as "unaccompanied minors," have crossed into the U.S. across the border from Mexico. The majority are from Central America, where young people have been forced to leave due to continued poverty, civil war, and gang violence. The arrival of unaccompanied minors peaked in FY2014, when over 68,000 children arrived from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The U.S. government has responded with increased enforcement rather than humanitarian measures.

Most of these children come from Central America, particularly from Honduras, and represent a change in the make-up of border crossers over several months. Many are crossing along the Texas border, and typically tell stories of levaing to unite with one or both parents, undocumented, in the U.S., and/or because of the dramatic rise in violence in Central America. The children have described how they have become targets of drug cartels, and have been subject to threats or acts of violence.














AIC Report: Children in Danger: A Guide to the Humanitarian Challenge at the Border: Figure 2: Homicides in the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador) vs. Unaccompanied Children at the U.S. Border from the Northern Triangle, FY 2009 - FY 2012, Sources: UNDOC, CBP

The U.S. has treated such children from Central America differently than those of Mexican origins -- even though they may share the same experience. Those coming from Central America have been given an opportunity to apply for asylum, may be placed under the protection of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and efforts made to reunite them with family in the U.S. Mexican children have been summarily deported back to Mexico.

These children in crisis need to be treated as refugees and should be provided humanitarian assistance. They should not be locked up in detention centers or deported. Moreover, steps should be taken to begin to address the root causes beneath this crisis -- the driving factors of poverty and violence in Central America. U.S. failure to provide adequate visas for legal immigration, as well as, the lack of opportunities for legalization of undocumented and family reunification -- also factor into the present crisis.

In January 2017, the Congressional Research Service published a report on unaccompanied children, which notes that in the first two months of FY2017, over 14,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended by Border Patrol.

Unaccompanied Migrant Children in the United States: Research RoundupAlexandra Raphel, Journalist's Resource. July 15, 2014. This provides useful background information and definitions. It also has a great amount of links and resources.


The National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC) mobilized delegations in September 2014 to visit El Salvador, Gutatemala and Honduras on a fact-finding mission concerning Central American migrant children. Read their Preliminary Findings and Recommendations. Visit their website at www.nalacc.org for more background and information.

The AFL-CIO led a labor delegation to Honduras in October 2014, meeting with workers, faith, labor, community partners and government officials. Their report, "Trade, Violence and Migration: The Broken Promises to Honduran Workers,"  elaborates on the impact of US trade and immigration policies and provides an excellent backdrop and context for the general phenomena of migration out of Honduras, and in particular, the rise of the migration of children and their families.

Q&A on Crisis of Children from Central AmericaAmy Shannon, National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC). July 20, 2014.

The Children of the Drug War: A Refugee Crisis, Not an Immigration Crisis. New York Times in-depth report on the children refugee crisis, by Sonia Nazario. July 11, 2014. 

Debunking 8 Myths About Why Central American Children Are Migrating. In These Times, by David Bacon. July 8, 2014. Narrates how U.S. policy has fueled violence and instability in the regions where these children are escaping from.


The Refugee Jail Deep in the Heart of Texas: A consequence of the restrictions imposed on Central American children and their families who have been crossing the border to flee from widespread violence and poverty has been the incarceration of families. This narrative, with photos, describes the situation at the family detention center in Killey, Texas.

Policy Recommendations on Unaccompanied Minors and Women at the US-Mexico Border. Authored by the South Texas Human Rights Center and the Working Group to Prevent Migrant Deaths, Aug. 5, 2014.

Children in Danger: A Guide to the Humanitarian Challenge at the Border. American Immigration Council. July 10, 2014. A straight-forward document organized by frequently asked questions. It addresses most of the myths around this refugee crisis and achievable solutions. Read the full report by clicking here.

Kids First: A Response to the Southern Border Humanitarian Crisis. U.S. Congressional Progressive Caucus proposal. July 9, 2014. Placing "kids first" and labeling the influx as a refugee crisis, this proposal offers a multifaceted solutions. Its Root Causes section is particularly commonly overlooked in mainstream discussions. 

NNIRR Urges President Obama to Act for Human Rights and Justice. NNIRR's Commentary on the current crisis. July 1, 2014. 

President Obama's Announcement of Executive Action to Address Migrant Children Border Crisis. June 30, 2014.

Protect, Don't Deport Children -- and Address Drivers of the Crisis. A commentary by Amy Shannon, NALACC. June 29, 2014.

Mexico's Other Border: Security, Migration, and the Humanitarian Crisis at the line with Central America. By Adam Isacson, Senior Associate for Regional Security; Maureen Meyer, Senior Associate for Mexico and Migration; and Gabriela Morales, Consultant. June 17, 2014

 Unaccompanied Children Leaving C. America and Mexico & the Need for International ProtectionUNHCR Report: Children on The Run: Unaccompanied Children Leaving C. America and Mexico & the Need for International Protection
Children on The Run: Unaccompanied Children Leaving Central America and Mexico and the Need for International Protection. (Executive Summary) Published by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, March 2014. UNHCR analyzes the humanitarian impact this insecurity has had on children, forcing them across international borders to seek safety on their own. The agency calls on Governments to take action to keep children safe from human rights abuses, violence and crime, and to ensure their access to asylum and other forms of international protection. 

What New Border Patrol Statistics Reveal about Changing Migration to the United StatesMigrants, increasingly non-Mexican, are arriving in Texas -- and frequently dying in remote areas. By Adam Isacson, Washington Office on Latin America. Jan. 30, 2014.