The purpose of this research was to understand the migration process as experienced by unaccompanied immigrant minors (UIMs). That is, to form a better understanding of why they seek migration, what motivates their migration, what happens to them on their migration journey, and how they adapt to their new communities in the United States. Using qualitative research methods, 60 semi-structured in-depth interviews were collected, along with 12 ethnographic interviews, and participant observations. The immigrants’ narratives were rich with data, and capture the plight that UIMs undertake as they leave their home countries. This study analyzes the dynamic of age in all facets of the migration process, by taking into account that children are participants of the migration process just as much as adults.
The dissertation generated several findings; the first was to provide a profile of an Unaccompanied Minor, and for the sake of the study, only participants from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala were interviewed. From those interviewed, we learned that UIMs are a heterogeneous group. They come from diverse backgrounds in terms of household structures; (nuclear family structures, single-parent structures, extended-family structures, and migrant-family structures). Also, education levels varied; (some finished elementary or even secondary school, but for those living in rural areas it was harder to attend school due to the distance and availability of educational facilities). Many also worked in the labor force from an early age. One salient theme that UIMs talked about in relation to their home life was how the increase in violence in many Latin American countries was threatening their safety, especially for UIMs from El Salvador and Honduras. The next major finding was the ability to see the multiple stages UIMs experience, including: initiation/decisions to migrate, journey, arrival/adaptation and what takes place in each of these stages.