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 13th (it will be out in January 2020), 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, April 20, 2014

Tragedies of Unaccompanied Minor Children

Rubén Rumbaut alerted me yesterday to a story that appeared in today's NYTimes about the death of a 12-year unaccompanied minor trying to get to New York to join her undocumented immigrant parents who live in the Bronx. I read the story late last night and couldn't sleep afterwards. The layers of tragedy in this story are almost beyond belief. The young victim is from Ecuador, but died in Ciudad Juarez, on the US-Mexico border, still 3500 km away from her parents.
Noemi was part of a human flood tide that has swelled since 2011: The United States resettlement agency expects to care for nine times as many unaccompanied migrant children in 2014 as it did three years ago.
For these children wandering thousands of miles, it is a grueling journey, filled with dangers. The vast majority come from Central America. Noemi’s trip was about twice as long. She had already tried once, leaving home last May, but was detained long before she even made it halfway.
“I went with a coyote and spent two months in Nicaragua and came back from there,” she wrote in a school information sheet.
She got a little closer this year. In March, a month after she left home, the police picked up Noemi and a coyote in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The authorities took her to a children’s shelter. She was described as crying inconsolably after being questioned by a prosecutor. A few days later, she was found hanged from a shower curtain rod in a bathroom at the shelter. Her death, ruled a suicide by Mexican authorities, remains under investigation by a human rights commission there.
The issue is that parents head to the U.S. for a job, leaving their children behind with grandparents (in this case) or even friends. They typically send money back to help pay the expenses of the children, but in this case the parents (both of whom are working without papers in New York) sent money back to the grandparents to pay coyotes to get this 12-year old girl to the US to join them. To be honest, as a parent and grandparent, I cannot imagine putting a child or grandchild of mine in that position, but then I am not an undocumented immigrant...
The number of unaccompanied minors caught entering the United States and then referred for placement is expected to reach 60,000 in the 12 months ending Sept. 30, said Lisa Raffonelli, a spokeswoman for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an increase from 6,560 in 2011. In Mexico, the number has more than doubled.
My PhD student, Liz Kennedy, is in El Salvador on a Fulbright Fellowship trying to understand this phenomenon from the Central American perspective. You can be sure that there are no easy answers.

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