This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Tragedy of Unaccompanied Children in the Migrant Stream

In the past few years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of unaccompanied minors entering the US and being detained. The reasons for this are not entirely clear, although I suspect that it has to do especially with the tightening of border controls since 9/11, combined with the bad economy since 2008. The tightening of the border has made it much more difficult for undocumented immigrants to go back and forth between their home in Mexico or Central America and their job in the US, often forcing parents to be separated from their children for protracted lengths of time. The bad economy has had a dampening effect on remittances, at least according to data from the World Bank for Mexico, as reported by the Migration Policy Institute. At the level of the individual family, it may well be that money sent home to care for children left behind has diminished. Furthermore, as the tightening of the border and the poor economy has slowed migration north, those who do try to cross, such as the unaccompanied minors, have a higher chance of being apprehended than in the past.

No matter what the reasons, the problem is growing, and the New York Times has a lengthy story on the issue in today's edition.

The young people, mostly from Mexico and Central America, ride to the border on the roofs of freight trains or the backs of buses. They cross the Rio Grande on inner tubes, or hike for days through extremes of heat and chill in Arizona deserts. The smallest children...are most often brought by smugglers.
The youths pose troubling difficulties for American immigration courts. Unlike in criminal or family courts, in immigration court there is no right to a lawyer paid by the government for people who cannot afford one. And immigration law contains few protections specifically for minors.
I would personally know much less about this problem than I do were it not for one of our PhD students here in Geography at SDSU who is quoted in the article: 
“The children at home feel unloved, they feel empty,” said Elizabeth G. Kennedy, a researcher at San Diego State University who studies child migrants. “If parents know their child is feeling empty and is in danger, they will make a decision.”
The decision, of course, is to encourage their children to come to the US, but too often things go awry. This seems to be a bad situation with no immediate solution in sight.

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