In the wake of these trends, some lawmakers have called on increased southern border security for Mexico. What do you make of that?
I think that's a knee-jerk reaction, which is not entirely inappropriate. But any conversation about increasing enforcement of other countries at points south has to include protection from sending people back to where they fear persecution or torture.
I've been reading that these children are coming north on rumors that the United States will let them in, that the Obama administration has lax policies toward minors. Did you find that at all in your survey?
We interviewed 404 children asking extremely open-ended questions as to the reasons and the nature of having left and what they were expecting when they arrived. Out of the 404, only 9 of them mentioned any kind of possibility of the U.S. treating children well. Two said "immigration reform"; one said "I hear they treat kids well." It's very general and from the perspective of a child. But only nine out of 404 said anything about that.
So what is attracting them to the United States?
First, I have to point out to you, it's not just the United States. That was a another red flag for us. There is an increasing trend to seek asylum in Mexico, which is much safer for them than where they are from. The number of asylum seekers in Nicaragua, in Belize, in Costa Rica, in Panama — all of that has grown 712 percent since 2008.
This is not the normal flow. For the U.N. refugee agency to register an uptick in asylum applications in places other than the United States is a huge red flag for us. People are leaving to places where they can find safety.
So what are the countries experiencing the influx?
The U.S, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, Belize.
How many people have left El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala? I'm trying to imagine the long-term impacts of tens of thousands of young people leaving their homes behind.
We don't know how many people have left. I can generally signal how many have been picked up on the radar by the states. As of last month we have 45,000 adults who have indicated a fear of return to U.S. border officials. Of that number, approximately 70 percent of that 45,000 figure are from those same three countries.
These are just the folks who are claiming fear of return, getting that registered. This is what has actually hit the radar. We have no idea about how many people don't get intercepted by border authorities. There is no way for us to track the number of individuals that are part of regular migration-enforcement activities.
Already to be talking about a flow of over 100,000 people from three countries is quite alarming.
Are these refugees? Immigrants? Does the distinction matter?
What we learned from our empirical study was that 58 percent of the children we interviewed flagged an international-protection concern. Where we drew the line, was that these children feared return because of violence and insecurity. They feared harm to themselves, and had the single conviction that they could not be protected in their countries. So that was our most conservative lens that we could look at the numbers. We excluded entrenched poverty, we excluded everything else. So 58 percent of the kids, in a statistically significant pool of 404, we wanted to be able to extrapolate to have a significant pool, present international protection concerns.