Equity & Diversity

Fastest Growing Group of Migrants Arriving at Border: Children Under 12

By Lesli A. Maxwell — July 22, 2014 2 min read

The images of very young children detained in U.S. Border Patrol facilities after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on their own are searing. We’ve seen small boys asleep in a crowded room beneath blankets donated by the American Red Cross. Two little girls with dark braids playing a hand game while dozens more children sleep on the floor around them.

But now, a new analysis of previously unreleased government data by the Pew Research Center gives us a much more accurate picture of just how young the wave of child migrants who traveled alone from Central America has been skewing in recent months. According to Pew’s analysis, the number of unaccompanied children ages 12 and under who crossed the border rose by 117 percent between the current fiscal year and last fiscal year.

And though teenagers by far make up the largest share of unaccompanied minors, children ages 12 and younger are the fastest-growing group of such child migrants coming to the U.S. from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The Pew Research Center got its hands on this data through a Freedom of Information Act request. According to Pew, the data are the first to provide a more detailed breakdown of the age and origins of the unaccompanied minors who have arrived during the surge of child migrants that spans from Oct. 1, 2012 to May 31, 2014.

Honduras, overall, has seen the largest numbers of child migrants crossing the Southwest border, and likewise, it has also been the source for the largest numbers of children ages 12 and under, according to Pew.

This upward trend of younger unaccompanied minors has already been spotted in school districts around the country and it is presenting new challenges for educators who are encountering such students.

In the 125,000-student Prince George’s County, Md., school system, educators had only ever seen unaccompanied minors who were either of middle or high school age, Patricia Chiancone, a counselor in the district’s international programs office, told me last month. But this past school year, she said, schools in her district were enrolling unaccompanied minors who were of elementary age.

Since October of last year, more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended at the Southwest border. After peaking in early- to mid-June, the influx has tapered off some. The Obama administration has been scrambling to address the border crisis, while also trying to contain the political fallout. President Obama is still seeking $3.7 billion in emergency funding to deal with the crisis, but Congress so far has taken no action to approve the request.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.