Grad Student Elizabeth Kennedy Authors Policy Piece for the American Immigration Council


Elizabeth Kennedy is a doctoral student in the UCSB/SDSU Joint PhD program, and her name keeps coming up in relation to media interviews regarding the influx of unaccompanied child migrants to the U.S. (you can access many of them here), as well as in print, radio, and television outlets like Univision, Time, Al Jazeera, and the Spanish language equivalent of the Associated Press. On July 1, 2014, the American Immigration Council in Washington, DC published a policy piece written by Elizabeth and titled “No Childhood Here: Why Central American Children are Fleeing Their Homes.” Some extracts:

“Over a decade before President Barack Obama described the influx of unaccompanied child migrants to the United States as an “urgent humanitarian situation requiring a unified and coordinated Federal response,” child and refugee advocates warned that children who shared experiences of years-long family separation, widespread violence in home countries, and higher rates of neglect and abuse were fleeing from South of our border in alarming numbers. Then as now, over 95 percent were from Mexico and the Central American nations of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. When these children were apprehended in the U.S., the Trafficking and Victim’s Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) required agents to ask limited and straightforward abuse questions. If the child was determined to be without a parent or legal guardian, s/he had to be transferred to Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) care within 72 hours.”

“Yet, even though 8,000 to 40,000 unaccompanied child migrants were apprehended annually between 2003 and 2011, only 4,800 to 8,300 entered ORR’s care each year. A 2011 report by the Appleseed Foundation documented that most Mexican child migrants did not receive TVPRA screening and thus could not transition to ORR care. Instead, per an agreement between the Mexican and U.S. governments that Obama would like emulated among Central American countries, Mexican children were quickly deported. Nonetheless, those from indigenous areas or areas with high levels of drug violence were able to receive the “Unaccompanied Alien Child” (UAC) designation, alongside thousands from the three countries that make up the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America. In 2012, nearly 14,000 UAC entered ORR care, with 88 percent from the Northern Triangle. In 2013, over 24,000 arrived, with 93 percent from the same three nations. This year, as many as 60,000 could arrive, and while numbers from Mexico have declined, numbers from the Northern Triangle continue rising.”

“What drives these children to flee their homes? What causes their parents to put them and their life’s savings in the hands of smugglers? What happens if they fail to reach the U.S.? Since October 2013, with funding from a Fulbright Fellowship, I have lived in El Salvador and worked toward answering these questions through my research into the causes of child migration and the effects of child deportation.”

“Based on the evidence I collected and analyzed to date, violence, extreme poverty, and family reunification play important roles in pushing kids to leave their country of origin. In particular, crime, gang threats, or violence appear to be the strongest determinants for children’s decision to emigrate. When asked why they left their home, 59 percent of Salvadoran boys and 61 percent of Salvadoran girls list one of those factors as a reason for their emigration.”

Read on.

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“The mission of the American Immigration Council is to strengthen America by honoring our immigrant history and shaping how Americans think and act towards immigration now and in the future. The American Immigration Council exists to promote the prosperity and cultural richness of our diverse nation by educating citizens about the enduring contributions of America’s immigrants, standing up for sensible and humane immigration policies that reflect American values, insisting that our immigration laws be enacted and implemented in a way that honors fundamental constitutional and human rights, and working tirelessly to achieve justice and fairness for immigrants under the law. The American Immigration Council believes that the dignity of the individual knows no boundary.”

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Elizabeth G. Kennedy is a doctoral candidate in the UCSB / SDSU Joint PhD Program. She has a BA in Government & Humanities from the University of Texas, Austin, and an MSc in Refugee & Forced Migrations Studies from Oxford University. Kennedy has over 10 years work experience with child and youth migrants, and for the past six years, has conducted international research with underserved youth in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, the UK, and the U.S. (photo credit: Mary M. Kennedy)