A recent government report acknowledges that a sharp increase in unaccompanied minors illegally migrating north was caused by their perceptions about U.S. immigration policy as well as a desire to flee violence and poor conditions in Central America.
The Government Accountability Office explains that that State Department, USAID, and Homeland Security officials stationed in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — the countries where much of the Unidentified Alien Children migration beginning in 2012 originated — identified a number of causes.
These officials, the report reads, “most commonly identified crime and violence and economic concerns as causes primarily responsible for the rapid increase in UAC migrating to the United States, followed by educational concerns, the desire for family reunification, and the role of smuggling networks. Family dysfunction and migrants’ perceptions of U.S. immigration policy were among other causes the agency officials identified.”
The migrants perceptions about immigration policies, in all three countries, according to the report were a “primary cause of UAC migration.”
Notably, in Honduras people believed that comprehensive immigration reform would lead to a path to citizenship for them and in El Salvador and Guatemala, human smugglers were further spreading misinformation about immigration policy in the U.S.
Five agency officials’ responses across all three countries identified migrants’ perceptions of U.S. immigration policies as a primary cause of UAC migration. For example, the State official’s response for Honduras reported that some Hondurans believed that comprehensive immigration reform in the United States would lead to a path to citizenship for anyone living in the United States at the time of reform. The USAID official’s response for Honduras reported that some Hondurans believe that unaccompanied children would be reunited with their families and allowed to stay in the United States. Also, as noted above, the State officials’ responses for El Salvador and Guatemala noted smugglers spread misinformation about U.S. immigration policies, creating misperceptions among migrants.
The report follows last summer’s humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, which saw tens of thousands of UACs and family units from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras illegally enter the U.S.
According to GAO, “the number of UAC from any country apprehended at the U.S.-Mexican border climbed from more than 24,000 in fiscal year 2012 to nearly 39,000 in fiscal year 2013, and to nearly 69,000 in fiscal year 2014,” 75 percent of those UACs apprehended in 2014 were from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras.
Seeking to address some of the factors fueling the migration, the Obama administration has implemented a number of programs and assistance efforts aimed at halting the push and pull factors, including an in-country refugee program for the three Central American countries that allows certain legally present parents, including those granted deferred status, to send for for their children living abroad.