Three Factors Contributing to the Influx of Unaccompanied Minors at the Border (with Charts)

There are probably at least three factors that are contributing to the current influx of unaccompanied minors at the border. Let’s consider them using some charts on the basic data.

Before we get started on the factors, let’s note that everyone agrees the number of minors at the border has been roughly doubling every year since about 2011. This helpful chart comes from this report.

It’s also important to note that this surge is not coming from Mexico but from countries in Central America. These are FY13 figures, the last complete year, but reports indicate FY14 figures are probably very similar.

So that’s the situation we now face, i.e. a large influx of kids from Central America. The question is why?

The first factor is high crime rates back home. This chart shows homicide rates in Central American countries since 2000 (Source here). As you can see, some of the countries with the worst murder rates, like Honduras which has the highest rate in the world, are the same ones sending a lot of kids to the border. The correlation isn’t perfect though. Some countries which have had recent declines in murder rates, like El Salvador, are still contributing a lot of kids to the current surge.

Another factor likely contributing to the current surge is a 2008 law, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which made it much more difficult to deport kids arriving from Central America. Whereas Mexican kids can be turned around at the border and sent home almost immediately, Central American kids are effectively given a chance to claim asylum. The LA Times published this chart showing how deportations of minors have dropped off since 2008.

The same LA Times story notes that gangs have begun training minors what to say to allow them to stay once they reach the U.S. In other words, people have learned how to exploit the current system.

Just two weeks ago there was a report the White House would seek to revise the 2008 law which gives kids from Central America time to remain in the U.S. after being apprehended at the border. However, after complaints from immigration supporters the White House reversed course in a matter of five days. Now instead of hastening departures the administration is seeking $3.7 billion to better manage the influx.

So that’s two factors: crime at home and fewer deportations for those who arrive. The final factor is harder to quantify so I don’t have a chart. Politico notes, “according to surveys and press reports, some of the surge is due to
rumors that kids who make it into the U.S. by the end of this year will
be eligible to stay in the U.S. indefinitely or permanently.” Where might they get that idea?

The White House sent Joe Biden to meet with leaders of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador last month. In a speech after a day of meetings, Biden confirmed that confusion about U.S. immigration law was a serious problem in these countries. He also indicated one source of that confusion [Emphasis added]:

Finally and critically, all of us in our meetings today agreed to
work to counter and correct the misinformation smugglers are propagating
about U.S. immigration policy, and discourage families from sending
their children on this perilous journey.

Look, the President of Guatemala announced, if memory serves me, that
beginning in July, the first two weeks in July, there will be a major
initiative in the media and in the public space here in Guatemala to
make it clear what the facts are.  The same commitment was made by the
President of El Salvador and the Honduran representatives. Mexico is already doing this.  We expect them to do it.  We will hold them to that commitment.  We’re convinced they will do it.

These minors that have recently come are not eligible — they are not
eligible to what’s referred to as deferred action
.  A deferred action
process.  Not if they arrived in the past seven years.  Let’s get this
straight.  Any minor who arrived in the past seven years is not eligible
for deferred action.

Where might young immigrants get the idea they could stay? Well, according to Biden one problem is that people have the wrong idea about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an executive action President Obama took in 2012 that allowed children brought here prior to 2007 to apply to remain for two years. Biden blames smugglers for spreading the misinformation about DACA, and this might be true, but it’s still misinformation about an action the President took without Congress.

The surge of unaccompanied minors at the border didn’t begin last month. It has been building for several years. It is being driven by high crime rates in home countries, a decrease in deportations of minors which leads them to believe they won’t be going home, and confusion about a highly trumpeted policy shift which allows (some) minors to stay in the U.S. The final factor is the administration’s negligence in not acting more aggressively to curb the current trend before it became a humanitarian crisis.

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