Unaccompanied alien children: potential factors contributing to recent immigration

Unaccompanied alien children: potential factors contributing to recent immigration

In the past several years, and in the past year in particular, the number of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) seeking to enter the United States along the U.S.-Mexico border has surged to unusually high levels. This surge is driven overwhelmingly by migration from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Congress has expressed increasing concerns over this situation because of its implications for border security and U.S. immigration policy. Because the surge has occurred recently, and because few sources of data exist to accurately measure the characteristics and motives of these unaccompanied children, immigration observers have advanced a range of explanations for the surge.

This report discusses major possible contributing factors that have been widely cited in published reports. The report distinguishes what are often referred to as “push” and “pull” factors associated with the recent surge. Push factors in this case refer to forces that originate in migrant origin countries which encourage children to emigrate to other countries. Pull factors refer to elements that originate in the United States and encourage children to migrate specifically to this country.

This report begins by describing the recent surge in unaccompanied child apprehensions. It discusses several factors widely associated with out-migration from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, three countries accounting for much of the recent surge of unaccompanied child migrants. These factors include economic conditions and poverty, crime and violence, and conditions related to the migration transit zone between Central America and the United States.

The report then discusses three broad factors that may be attracting migrants to the United States: economic and educational opportunity, family reunification, and U.S. immigration policies.