In recent years, the number of unaccompanied minors arriving in the United States has increased dramatically. In the last year alone, the number doubled, with the vast majority originating from Central America. Their arrival exemplifies what we know about immigration. Large-scale movements of people happen under three sets of circumstances: (1) when a humanitarian crisis propels people to escape violence, persecution, war, or an environmental catastrophe; (2) when individuals seek to reunify with family members who migrated earlier; and (3) when people experience profound poverty and perceive few, if any, opportunities for gainful employment. Each of these factors contributes to the current crisis.
This immigration crisis has led to a great deal of media and political attention in the United States, some of it informed by experts in fields like political science and international relations. Psychologists, although not as frequently consulted, also have much to contribute. Psychology is the study of behavior and mental processes encompassing people’s actions, thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and reasoning. Thus, psychologists can contribute much that is relevant to social policy. The court case of Brown v. Board of Education, for example, was partially argued and won based on psychological research about children's attitudes about race, contributing to racial integration in public schooling. Psychological theory and research should also be utilized to address the issues of unaccompanied minors.
SPSSI invited several psychologists to explain how their research can contribute to the ongoing policy discussion about these minors. Many of the children come from similar backgrounds and suffer similar fates if they manage to reach the U.S. (Suarez Orozco). A large number come from Honduras (Sladkova) and Guatemala (Lykes), making it important to understand these specific contexts. We must also investigate the traumatic effects of their journeys (Brabeck) and examine the how they should be treated once they arrive in the United States (Daiute). The "everyday violence" framework, which considers the structural and symbolic violence they experience, provides a useful way to think about what these children have endured (Dutta). Finally, it is essential to consider the children’s developmental stage in legal hearings to determine their status (Malloy).
This project was overseen by Drs. Jana Sladkova and Krystal Perkins