Towards a Nuanced Understanding of Mexican and Central American Youth Motivations to Migrate

Authors: Sarah Blue*, , Rebecca M Torres, University of Texas at Austin, Kate Swanson, San Diego State University, Amy Thompson, University of Texas at Austin, Oscar Misael Hernández Hernández, COLEF - Matamoros
Topics: Migration, Latin America, United States
Keywords: migration, unaccompanied minor migration, undocumented, Central America, Mexico
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Mid-City, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As Central American and Mexican unaccompanied migrant youth attempt to secure asylum or other legal relief in the U.S., they must fit into narrow and rigid legal categories based largely on their narratives of, and ability to prove, motivations for leaving home countries. Over-simplified binaries of economic/family reunification migrants and an outdated refugee classification (Betts 2013) are used to profile young migrants and determine their rights to protection. In reality, youth migrate for multiple, complex and overlapping reasons that rarely fit neatly into discrete categories. Drawing on both mobilities and lifecourse theoretical frameworks, this study examines the intersectionality of gender, age, cohort, care arrangements, and legal status, among other factors to understand the multiple and nuanced motivations guiding Central American and Mexican youth to the United States. This paper analyses youth-focused survey and interview data conducted in Mexican border cities in Tamaulipas to explore underlying factors that shape youths’ decisions and agency throughout the migration process and journey. It explores the intersecting motivations of family reunification, violence, transnational parenting, educational, and economic opportunities as key factors in understanding the recent migration of Central American and Mexican youth to the United States. Findings suggest the need to challenge narrow legal categories and processes that erode migrant children’s rights to protection, as well as to develop alternative forms of immigration screening that allow greater complexity and nuance in making determinations that are life altering for youth.

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