Increased Family and Child Migration to the United States from Latin America and the Caribbean: The Paradox of Protecting Children's Rights

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Abstract / Resumen / Resumo

The year 2019 marked the beginning of a dramatic increase in migrant families arriving at the US-Mexico border, joining the consistently high number of unaccompanied children. Family arrivals increased from 167,000 in 2018 to nearly 1 million in 2023, accounting for almost one-third of all arrivals. Most of the migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border are from Latin America or the Caribbean (LAC) and their arrival marks a sharp shift in the demographic profile of arrivals in the past decade. These migrants are coming from numerous countries in LAC, in addition to the more traditional source of family arrivals, Mexico and Northern Central America. To understand this demographic shift at the border, we go beyond a focus on structural factors such as political turmoil and growing personal and economic insecurity to analyze how these factors combine with a backlash to extreme U.S. immigration policies of deterrence to create a situation whereby children and families now receive greater legal protections. Restrictive migration policies that have closed legal pathways have resulted in family migration via asylum as one of the few options to enter the United States. This shift represents migration substitution effects that have affected the timing and composition characterizing new migrant flows. The closure of legal pathways and ‘now or never’ openings created by U.S. policies have resulted in growing numbers of family and child arrivals at the U.S. border.