Child Immigration from Central America

The number of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border increased by 90% between 2013 and 2014, drawing the attention and concern of the U.S. government, media and public. While some argue that it is U.S. immigration policies, such as the creation of DACA in 2012 that have caused this increase, a close statistical evaluation of the available data suggests a different dynamic. Coupling data on homicide rates by country with that of the number of children arriving each year suggests a relationship between violence and child immigration. Ninety-eight percent of unaccompanied minors arriving at the border are from Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador, representing a significant shift where prior to 2012, more than 75% of UACs were from Mexico.

Significant concerns have been expressed regarding the journey that these children endure as they try to cross the border. These children are frequently trafficked, robbed, sexually assaulted, and exploited by gangs, cartels and even government authorities. At the same time, these countries have demonstrated that they are unable to protect children who are sent back, and sadly several children who were deported were subsequently discovered to have been killed. The U.S. has received criticisms for having inadequately provided for the influx of unaccompanied minors.

Meanwhile, U.S. economic support to many of these high-violence countries has been decreasing in recent years. U.S. support for Central America began to wane in the 1990s following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the region's civil conflicts. The Obama Administrations FY2015 request would increase bilateral aid to $27.6 million in El Salvador, $77.1 million in Guatemala, and $48.2 million in Honduras.

This soundscape represents U.S. economic assistance provided to Central America (1946-present), levels of violence in those countries (1995-2012), and the numbers of unaccompanied minors fleeing from this region and entering the United States (2008-present). Economic assistance and violence data are separated according to high violence and low violence countries. Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala were averaged together to create high violence lines of music. Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama and Mexico were averaged together for the low violence lines of music. Data for the unaccompanied minors are represented with pizzicato sounds.

What to listen for:
• Beginning-end: two lines of music representing economic assistance to high and low violence countries. Notice that the pitch goes up as economic assistance is high for both in the ‘80s (1:23-1:30). The last three notes in the composition represent projected/anticipated economic assistance to the high violence countries.
• 1:47: two more lines of music, representing violence rates in high and low violence countries, are added. These lines slowly go up in pitch, as violence rates go up.
• 2:12: pizzicato representing unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. Notice that the pitch goes up quickly and significantly from 2008-2014.

Data Sources:
1. Economic Assistance, by Country (1946-2012): U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants: Obligations and Loan Authorizations, July 1 1945 - September 30, 2012
2. Violence, by Country (1995-2012): based on homicide rates from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
3. Unaccompanied minors arriving in the U.S. (2008-2014): U.S. Border Patrol, "Unaccompanied Children (0-17) Apprehensions, Fiscal Year 2008 through Fiscal Year 2012," February 4, 2013 and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, "Southwest Border Unaccompanied Alien Children," August 2014.