MPI Commentary Assesses Surge in Unaccompanied Child Migration, Offers Some Policy Options

The Migration Policy Institute
June 11, 2014
Dear Luis Reyes,

The rapidly rising flow of unaccompanied children across the U.S.-Mexico border represents a genuine migration emergency. More than 60,000 unaccompanied children, overwhelmingly from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, are expected to enter federal custody after crossing the border this fiscal year—up from a tenth that number just three years ago.

This presents major stakes for the U.S. government, whose capacity to care for the caseload is overwhelmed as fast as it can be installed, as well as for governments in Central America and Mexico, which are the origins and transit points for this traffic.

In a new commentary, Kathleen Newland, who heads the Migration Policy Institute’s humanitarian protection work, sketches the deep push and pull factors driving the rising unaccompanied child migration and offers some proposals for the broader policy response that must quickly follow on the humanitarian one.

As she writes: “Of course, there is no single policy approach that is going to bend the curve on unaccompanied child arrivals.”

But as policymakers, government officials, service providers, and others grapple with the complex challenges posed by this migration, and the unique protection issues surrounding this vulnerable child population, Kathleen’s insights are important ones, informed by her deep expertise in the humanitarian protection field.

I also invite you to stay tuned: within the next couple of weeks, MPI will publish a policy brief that examines some of the deeper causes of this unaccompanied child migration, including unanticipated consequences of well-meaning U.S. policies. The brief will also offer policy recommendations for the United States, Mexico, and Central America for a constructive way forward that results in protections and fair treatment for these vulnerable young people in the U.S. immigration system, and that begins to address the underlying causes that compel families to make the painful decision to send their children on such a perilous journey.

Best regards,

Doris Meissner
Director, U.S. Immigration Policy Program
Migration Policy Institute
The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more on MPI, please visit