The risk of unaccompanied migrant youth

In “At the Crossroads: Youth at the Intersection of the Family and the State”, Lauren Heidbrink writes:

“In addition to being subjected to the vicissitudes of the war on terrorism and the war on immigrants, unaccompanied children also exist as a particular kind of palpable threat to the body politic. The view that children are somehow in the process of becoming and of being not-yet-socialized translates into the contested potentiality of migrant youth. On the one hand, the potential for socialization and rehabilitation offers some assurances to the state which seeks their allegiance; on the other, the malleability of impressionable youth elevates them open to forming suspicious or even danger allegiances with other states, criminals or terrorists. The diffuseness of terrorism leaves those allegiances simultaneously undetermined, yet in many respects, inconsequential. It is the fear of the relation of these youths’ potential influenced by violent terrorist organizations, that warrants additional attention and containment. Images of child soldiers from conflicts around the world and headlines about children as young as 14 training to be suicide bombers in Gaza, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan offer the public further proof to the capacity of children to commit terrorism. Unaccompanied migrant youth become yet another group of unencumbered, untrustworthy, born men requiring law-enforcement intervention to control the threat to he nation (see Bernstein and Lichtblau, 2005). While seemingly irreconcilable with the image of the hardened criminal incapable of rehabilitation, the still-malleable youth as a potential home-grown terrorist stems from social anxieties of violence and xenophobia. The out-of-place migrant youth transforms from at risk to the risk” (176).

As debates swirl around how to address the humanitarian crisis along the US/Mexico border, a new threat narrative forms and children are made “impossible subjects”.

Experiences of Exploitation, Poverty, and Marginality among Unaccompanied Migrant Youth

I am approaching my two year anniversary of beginning my research with Central American youth and young-adults who arrived as unaccompanied minors. Each day they thank me for my time and attention and have given me nicknames like “teacher”, “hermana”, and “Chep” (Maya K’iche for Stephanie). They smile shyly when I tell them that they are my teachers and I would not have made it this far in grad school if it were not for them. Not only because, well… they are my research participants, but because they teach me about perseverance, hope, dreaming big dreams, and finding happiness in moments of sinceridad (sincerity).

Below is the product of my time as a UC Davis Center for Poverty Research visiting scholar. A small glimpse into the lives of those unaccompanied minors who make it beyond the border and begin living and working in Los Angeles. Please share this and join me in making this experience known.

Press Conference and Rally

Human Rights Alliance for Child Refugees and Families

From Facebook Event (link below):

Central Americans and Allies call on President Obama to Rescind his call to Fastrack-Deportation of Minors and to Divert $2 billion away from Militarizing the Border

In response to the current humanitarian crisis evidenced by the unprecedented number of Central American child migrants seeking refuge in the United States,Southern California based organizations will protest President Obama’s harmful policies towards refugee children on Monday, July 7 at 12:30pm at the Downtown Los Angeles Federal Building.

As U.S. citizens, residents, concerned civilians, organizations, community, legal experts, and families of the detained and deported, we have a moral and legal responsibility to demand that the United States government halt traumatizing and further damaging the already scarred lives of these child migrants. We demand that the children be reunited with their families, that deportations stop, and that we take humanitarian –rather than ruthless– steps towards solving this humanitarian crisis.

WHO: Human Rights Alliance for Child Refugees and Families includes local organizations, families, and legal experts concerned with the treatment and rights of Central American child migrants

WHERE: Downtown LA Federal Building
300 North Los Angeles Street Los Angeles, CA 90012


WHEN: Monday, July 7, 2014. 12:00 PM



For more info: