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UCSD Professor: Violence Main Cause Of Child Immigrant Crisis

Tom Wong, UC San Diego assistant professor of political science
UC San Diego
Tom Wong, UC San Diego assistant professor of political science
Violence Is Main Cause Of Child Immigrant Crisis, UCSD Professor Says
UC San Diego Professor Says Violence, Not DACA, Behind Child Immigrant Crisis GUESTSTom Wong, Assistant Professor of Political Science, UC San Diego Lilia Velasquez, Immigration Attorney

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. The humanitarian crisis of thousands of unaccompanied minors and young families crossing the Texas Mexico border has been largely overshadowed by the political controversy it has raised. President Obama has use the issue to criticize Congress for not moving forward on immigration reform. Republicans have blasted the president, claiming he has caused the crisis by issuing his executive order for Deferred Action on deportations. Now Tom Wong of UC San Diego has done a statistical analysis of the unaccompanied children crisis. I would like to welcome my guests, Tom Wong is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at UC San Diego. He studies immigration trends and their influence on politics. Welcome to the program. Lilia Velasquez is a San Diego Immigration Attorney, thank you so much for joining us today. Tom, first of all, if you could, remind us and give us an idea of the percentage of increases that we are seeing now in young kids, young families surrendering at the US border. TOM WONG: Currently this year there have been about 57,000 unaccompanied minors have surrendered themselves at the southern US border. We are seeing, since about 2011, a 100% increase from year-to-year. A doubling of unaccompanied minors from year-to-year. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What do we know about the people who are crossing, there ages and where they are from? TOM WONG: I think the best data on this comes from the UN High Commission. In one study, they actually interviewed 400 unaccompanied minors. They are young, under eighteen, and they are becoming increasingly younger. They include both little boys and girls, and the national origins profile are some Mexicans, about one quarter of the I accompanied minors. About three fourths are from El Salvador or hundred this. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, you say your analysis shows violence in home countries, and not US policy that is driving this migration. What did you find to support that? TOM WONG: This has become a political football. To try to cut through some political rhetoric, I took a look at some of the available data. We have data on homicide rates throughout Latin America. We have data on economic conditions, etc. When we look at the data, and see what sticks when it comes to explaining the increase in unaccompanied minors, we see that violence in home countries holds as a systematic explanation for the increase in unaccompanied minors, while accounting for poverty, and geographical proximity to the US, as well as other factors. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me just mention the fact that the homicide rate in Honduras has been extremely high, one of the highest in the world for at least five years now. Why would we see the huge spike in immigration from that country now? TOM WONG: The homicide rates have actually fluctuated across a lot of Central American countries that are sending unaccompanied minors. The first part of my analysis is to actually look at the core countries that are at the root of the political controversy, and look at year-to-year change in violence, and see if that correlates to a year-to-year change in the number of unaccompanied minors that come to the US from those countries. When we see violence at very high rates like Honduras, that is when we see an increase in unaccompanied minors. But when violence is at a low rate and tends to stabilize like what we see in Mexico, that's when we see a steady flow of unaccompanied minors. We don't expect an increase or decrease. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Lilia, what do you make of Tom's analysis? Is this consistent with what you're hearing? LILIA VELASQUEZ: Absolutely, I think there's a great number of researchers like Tom who have reached the same conclusion. Violence is the primary motivator for unaccompanied minors coming into the United States. There is a small percentage of people coming here to be reunited with families. There is no doubt about that, there has always been the reason why my kids come to the United States without occupants. In addition, there are misconceptions and misinformation given to minors that if they come here, they will be allowed to stay. Unfortunately, there are always people willing to rip off immigrants and take advantage of their ignorance and their poverty, and yes, it is my understanding that some people were told come to the United States and you will be allowed to stay. I am also looking at my practice in the last few years in representing Central American refugees. One constant has always been violence. All of the applications, why are you coming here, my father was killed, my brother was kidnapped, it is always generalized violence and a lack of security in those countries. The problem is, that it now has escalated. One point that I would like to make is that on a regular basis, the United States is deporting to those countries, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Violent criminals, gang members, who either have no documents or lost green cards and are now being deported. Increasingly those countries are becoming hydrated with five it terminals. I am not surprised that the result, they could become penal colonies in years to come. Again, I think violence is what is bringing people here. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tom, the statistical analysis that you have done is showing that the one factor that really explains this is the violence in immigrant from countries. Some people have characterized this and I think the administration has characterized this as a perfect storm, in other words, there is a problem of incredible spiking violence in the Central American countries, plus the new programs who have opened up for people who are already in this country are being misinterpreted by people at risk in Central America. Does anything that you have seen imply that there is something to that? TOM WONG: Just add to the previous discussion, we're not just focusing on those countries that experience violence, and send unaccompanied minors to the US. Part of the analysis is also to look to the countries not experiencing violence. The expectation there, is that if violence is the driver, we would not see the same number of unaccompanied minors from those countries are not experiencing violence. When we expand this to include a broader set of Latin American countries, that is actually the case, those that are experiencing violence have unaccompanied minors, those that are not, don't. To the argument that there are some aspects of US immigration policy, particularly Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals which gives undocumented youth a temporary work permit, and temporary relief from deportation. That argument that DACA is one of the causes of the increase in unaccompanied minors has resonated with many. Particularly because of some graphs like those used by Senator Ted Cruz in congressional testimony shows that the increase in unaccompanied minors really spiked in 2012, the same year as DACA. Unfortunately, for that particular argument, Senator Ted Cruz, Darrell Issa and others neglect to mention the data that CBP offers are in fiscal years. So that spike during the fiscal year data is actually beginning in 2011, which is the year before DACA. There is another thing that we sort of look for when we evaluate causality, it is a technical term called unit homogeneity, basically here is how the argument goes. If DACA is incentivizing unaccompanied minors, to come to the US, that incentive should be felt by all individuals that in all countries equally. It means that we should see Nicaraguans being incentivized as much as, if not more than El Salvadorans, but that is not the case. We see that the increase in unaccompanied minors remains limited to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. What that means is, in the language that the clause referenced, the absence of unit homogeneity, why just these three countries while all countries are equally incentivized? MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, and Tom has explained this eloquently in technical language, but if you listen to newscasts and read headlines, this upsurge in child immigration seems to be affecting the larger immigration reform debate. How do you see this influencing what is going on among politicians and the public in general? LILIA VELASQUEZ: In the past, we have not had the will from Republicans to approve immigration reform that included a path to legalization and eventually citizenship. With the crisis of 50,000 people that we need to process throughout the legal system, we need to provide them with the ability to get a lawyer. It will take a lot of resources and time. If Republicans were angry before, because Obama enacted deferred action, now they will be even angrier that we have a flux of migrants that are seeking asylum fleeing for their lives. From my perspective, I believe that immigration reform is dead, at least for the next couple of years. Obama is not going to leave office with a legalization package, it is not going to happen, politicians are very upset and everyone is blaming Obama. Something Tom said about deferred action, it is illogical to connect the influx of Central Americans with DACA. For you to become eligible, you need to have resided in the United States continuously since June 16 of 2007, not to mention getting a high school diploma or being in school. So under no circumstances can you even possibly or logically connect deferred action with the influx of migrants. It is not there. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, Tom, Lilia is expressing the belief that any action on immigration reform is not going to happen in the next couple of years. According to recent surveys, American attitudes on immigration is becoming one of the biggest concerns of the American public, isn't that right? TOM WONG: Yes, what we see from Gallup recently is that immigration is now cited as being the most significant problem that the country faces, about 17% of the public feel that way. Behind that is 16% dissatisfied with Congress. Those two things actually are more pressing in the minds of Americans than the economy and unemployment. Suggest to get back to something that was previously said, when we think about the issue of unaccompanied minors, the language and imagery of crisis and floods and being overwhelmed, I think should be put into a different kind of context. If we think about these 57,000 unaccompanied minors who come to the US, and are surrendering themselves, let's say we give them all green cards, legal permanent residency. That would just represent 5% of all green cards that we give annually. Put it in different perspective, if we give all of these children temporary status, that would represent one half of 1% of all temporary visas that we give annually. The language of crisis, floods, etc., is endemic to the reality that this particular issue has become medical theater, which is unsurprising because of the upcoming midterm elections. To the question about immigration reform, immigration reform did not have much of a chance at all, if you believe my forecast last year, the votes were not there. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I have to end it there. Thank you so much, both of you.

The humanitarian crisis of thousands of unaccompanied minors and young families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has been overshadowed largely by the political controversy it's raised.

President Barack Obama has used the issue to criticize Congress for not moving forward on immigration reform. Republicans have blasted the president, claiming he caused the crisis by issuing his executive order on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, in 2012.

The 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act has also been placed at center of the current increase in unaccompanied minors.

Statistical Analysis On Child Immigrant Crisis
Statistical Analysis Shows that Violence, Not U.S. Immigration Policies, Is Behind the Surge of Unaccompanied Children Crossing the Border
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UC San Diego Assistant Political Science Professor Tom Wong has done a statistical analysis of the unaccompanied children crisis. His analysis supports the theory that the increase in unaccompanied children coming from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador results from violence in their home countries, and not administration policies.

Wong looked at homicide rates and coupled the data with that of the number of children arriving to the U.S. each year.

According to Wong's analysis:

Violence is among of the main drivers causing the increase. Whereas Central American countries that are experiencing high levels of violence have seen thousands of children flee, others with lower levels of violence are not facing the same outflow. This trend holds even when accounting for poverty and distance to the United States.

By contrast, the evidence does not support the argument that DACA, the TVPRA, or lax border enforcement has caused the increase in children fleeing to the United States.
Wong concludes:
...if DACA were in fact incentivizing the flow of unaccompanied children, Nicaraguans and Panamanians would feel this just as Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans, which would mean dramatic upticks across the board. However, this is clearly not the case.