The Migration of Children from Mexico to the USA in the Early 2000s

Abstract

Children comprise a significant share of immigrants around the world, yet scholarship has largely treated children as adult-like or adult-following actors in migration. We explore how the early life course and parents’ migration structured children’s migration from Mexico to the USA from 2002 to 2005, using the Mexican Family Life Survey, national survey data from Mexico that tracked 854 migrants, including 375 children, to the USA. We find that while parents’ migration decisions matter at all ages, young children who migrate are nearly always accompanied by their parents, whereas the minority of adolescents are. Primary school-aged children and accompanied adolescents migrate in response to community violence and barriers to education, suggesting that their migration reflects concerns about where it is best to raise children. Adolescents who migrate without their parents do so in response to economic factors, much like adults; however, adolescents also respond to youth community migration prevalence, suggesting that youth-specific norms of migration frame their decision-making. The results show how the early life course structures three distinct profiles of child migration: complete dependents, children whose location choices reflect concerns about schools and safety, and near independents. More generally, the determinants and process of migration shift as parental oversight declines and social structures beyond the family—community violence, access to education, youth norms, gender, and labor markets—emerge as important.

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Fig. 1

Source: Mexican Family Life Survey 2002–2005

Fig. 2

*Child migration prevalence is measured by the percent of Mexico-US migrants from 1995 to 2000 in the community of origin who were under age 18 at the time of migration. Source: Mexican Family Life Survey 2002–2005, 2000 Census

Fig. 3

Source: Mexican Family Life Survey 2002–2005

Notes

  1. 1.

    Although the third wave of the MxFLS, collected between 2009–2015, is publicly available, data on US migrants—those in the United States at the time of the third wave interview—had not yet been released at the time of this writing, so we could not analyze US migration through 2015 in the MxFLS.

  2. 2.

    We do not know what specific age individuals in the MxFLS migrated, only whether or not they migrated between 2002 and 2005, meaning that children who were 15–17 in 2002 may have aged into adulthood by the time of migration. We conducted all analyses on the sample of children who were under 18 in 2002 and those who were under 15 in 2002. Further, we estimated models controlling for marriage, cohabitation, and parenthood among adolescents. The results were consistent with those presented.

  3. 3.

    We examined the timing of migration of Mexican children and parents who migrated to the United States between 2002 and 2005 using the 2002–2014 American Communities Survey (Ruggles et al. 2017). Among Mexican born respondents who migrated to the United States prior to age 18 between 2002 and 2005, 87% migrated in the same year as their mother and 75% migrated in the same year as their father, suggesting a high rate of accompaniment if we assume that children and parents who migrated in the same year migrated together.

  4. 4.

    We did not find other significant interactions between gender and other covariates in the model. We cannot determine if gender does not differentiate the forces generating migration of children or if we do not have power to detect those effects given the number of female child migrants in our data is small.

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Acknowledgements

Research reported in this publication was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R03HD084877. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. We thank Jenna Nobles and Fernando Lozano-Ascencio for their comments on early versions of the manuscript.

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Hamilton, E.R., Bylander, M. The Migration of Children from Mexico to the USA in the Early 2000s. Popul Res Policy Rev (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11113-020-09591-x

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Keywords

  • Children
  • Migration
  • Mexico
  • US
  • Education
  • Violence
  • Migrant networks