The Child and Family Migration Surge of Summer 2014: A Short-Lived Crisis with a Lasting Impact

Faye Hipsman
Muzaffar Chishti
May 06, 2015

In the summer months of 2014, a surge in the number of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) and family units from Central America arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border precipitated a crisis for the U.S. government and a firestorm in political and media circles. In recent years, no issue in regional migration (involving the United States, Mexico, and Central America) has attracted this level of red-hot attention and controversy. This article will first examine the numbers—and the trends—of the migration of unaccompanied children prior to and in the wake of this summer’s crisis. It will explore the complex set of push and pull factors responsible for the surge, including security concerns in Central America, structural economic dynamics in the region, the desire for family reunification, U.S. immigration policies that mandate special treatment of child migrants, and the role of smuggling networks. It will survey the policy responses of the governments of the United States, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to the surge—and their impacts. Further, it will examine the ramifications of the child migration influx at the federal, state, and local levels in the United States, as well as the effects of the crisis on the broader political immigration debate in the United States. Lastly, the article will offer recommendations on how to better respond to child migration—both in the short term and on an ongoing, long-term basis.