by Ernesto Castañeda and Daniel Jenks
Russell Sage Foundation, 2024
Paper: 978-0-87154-499-5 | eISBN: 978-1-61044-911-3
Library of Congress Classification JV6940.C37 2024
Dewey Decimal Classification 305.230896872808

In the second decade of the twenty-first century, an increasing number of children from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala began arriving without parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. In many cases, the parents had left for the United States years earlier to earn money that they could send back home. In Reunited sociologists Ernesto Castañeda and Daniel Jenks explain the reasons for Central American youths’ migration, describe the journey, and document how the young migrants experience separation from and subsequent reunification with their families.
In interviews with Central American youth, their sponsors, and social services practitioners in and around Washington, D.C., Castañeda and Jenks find that Central American minors migrate on their own mainly for three reasons: gang violence, lack of educational and economic opportunity, and a longing for family reunification. The authors note that youth who feel comfortable leaving and have feelings of belonging upon arrival integrate quickly and easily while those who experience trauma in their home countries and on their way to the United States face more challenges.
Castañeda and Jenks recount these young migrants’ journey from Central America to the U.S. border, detailing the youths’ difficulties passing through Mexico, proving to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials that they have a legitimate fear of returning or are victims of trafficking, and staying in shelters while their sponsorship, placement, and departure are arranged. The authors also describe the tensions the youth face when they reunite with family members they may view as strangers. Despite their biological, emotional, and financial bonds to these relatives, the youth must learn how to relate to new authority figures and decide whether or how to follow their rules.
The experience of migrating can have a lasting effect on the mental health of young migrants, Castañeda and Jenks note. Although the authors find that Central American youths’ mental health improves after migrating to the United States, the young migrants remain at risk of further problems. They are likely to have lived through traumatizing experiences that inhibit their integration. Difficulty integrating, in turn, creates new stressors that exacerbate PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Consequently, schools and social service organizations are critical, the authors argue, for enhancing youth migrants’ sense of belonging and their integration into their new communities. Bilingual programs, Spanish-speaking PTA groups, message boards, mentoring of immigrant children, and after-school programs for members of reunited families are all integral in supporting immigrant youth as they learn English, finish high school, apply to college, and find jobs.
Offering a complex exploration of youth migration and family reunification, Reunited provides a moving account of how young Central American migrants make the journey north and ultimately reintegrate with their families in the United States.