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The arrival at the U.S. border in 2013–14 of tens of thousands of unaccompanied migrant children from Central America is unprecedented. Factors driving them include both longstanding challenges—chronic violence, economic despair, official corruption, and the pull of family reunification—and the myth recently disseminated by greedy traffickers of lenient U.S. immigration policy. The United States, while taking steps to deter further migration, should also focus intensively on the long term factors.

How to Address Child Migration From Central America


2 “Southwest Border Unaccompanied Alien Children,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 2014,
3 David Rogers, “Johnson ramps up border projections,”, July 11, 2014,
4 World Bank, “Poverty & Equity Data,” accessed July 9, 2014,
5 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Global Study on Homicide 2013 (Vienna: UNODC, 2013).
6 Data taken from Dirección de Estadística Policía / Nacional Observatorio de Violencia, “Deaths by Homicide per Age, Sex and Number of Cases,” available at 7 Instituto Universitario de Democracia, Paz, y Seguridad, “Boletín del Observatorio de Violencia, Edición 32” (February 2014), 2, 8 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), “Citizen Security with a Human Face: Evidence and Proposals for Latin America,” Regional Human Development Report 2013–2014 (New York: UNDP, 2013), 9.
9 White House, Office of the Vice President, “Remarks to the Press with Q&A by Vice President Joe Biden in Guatemala,” press release, June 20, 2014.
10 Caitlin Dickinson, “How Mexico’s Cartels Are Behind the Border Kid Crisis,” The Daily Beast, June 23, 2014,
11 Oscar Martinez, “How the Zetas Tamed Central America’s ‘Coyotes’” InSight Crime, May 1, 2014, 12 Steven Dudley, “US Cables Raise Questions about Mexico Migrant Massacres,” InSight Crime, November 20, 2013,
13 UNODC, The Globalization of Crime: A Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment (Vienna: UNODC, 2010),
14 Secretaría de Gobernación, Boletín Mensual de Estadísticas Migratorias, 2013 (Mexico: Secretaría de Gobernación, 2013),

About the Author

Eric L. Olson

Eric L. Olson

Global Fellow;
Director of the Central America-D.C. Platform, Seattle International Foundation
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Latin American Program

The Wilson Center’s prestigious Latin American Program provides non-partisan expertise to a broad community of decision makers in the United States and Latin America on critical policy issues facing the Hemisphere. The Program provides insightful and actionable research for policymakers, private sector leaders, journalists, and public intellectuals in the United States and Latin America. To bridge the gap between scholarship and policy action, it fosters new inquiry, sponsors high-level public and private meetings among multiple stakeholders, and explores policy options to improve outcomes for citizens throughout the Americas. Drawing on the Wilson Center’s strength as the nation’s key non-partisan forum, the Program serves as a trusted source of analysis and a vital point of contact between the worlds of scholarship and action.  Read more