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Central Americans' Views of Child Migrants in 2015

Central Americans' Views of Child Migrants in 2015

Story Highlights

  • Vast majority of adults said it was unjustified to send children alone
  • Most felt children's future would be worse in another country

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- After a surge in unaccompanied children traveling from Central America to the U.S., most residents of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua said in 2015 that they did not think it was justified to send children to another country on their own. It's difficult to say what their reactions would be today, as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security works to meet a court-ordered deadline to reunite children who have crossed the U.S. border with their parents, only to be separated.

Central Americans' Views on Sending Children to Another Country Alone
Do you think it is justified to send children alone to another country, or not?
Yes, justified No, not justified
% %
El Salvador 14 84
Guatemala 8 90
Honduras 7 93
Nicaragua 5 94
Gallup World Poll, 2015

Unaccompanied children from Central America crossed the U.S. border en masse a few years ago, and the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended tens of thousands of them. Back then, Border Patrol was required to take unaccompanied children into custody for screening. They were then transferred to a subagency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that was tasked with finding care for the children, whether with a relative or in foster care.

Gallup asked residents of four Central American countries -- including the "Northern Triangle" of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador -- for their views on these children's departure.

Despite the violence that plagued their region and spurred the children to leave home, vast majorities of adults in these four countries, ranging from 84% to 94%, felt it was unjustified to send children alone to another country. However, a sizable minority of Salvadoran adults (14%) felt it was justified to send children away on their own.

Most adults in these countries saw a bleak future for the children. Majorities said that children who went to another country alone would have a worse future rather than a better one. But in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, about a quarter or more saw a brighter future for the children who had left on their own. Today, a majority of Salvadorans (53%) say they do not feel safe walking alone at night where they live.

Central Americans' Views on Future of Children Who Left Their Country Alone
Do you think children who have left the country alone (without parents or other family) to go to another country will have a better future or a worse future?
Better future Worse future
% %
El Salvador 28 51
Guatemala 24 59
Honduras 29 58
Nicaragua 9 77
Gallup World Poll, 2015

Bottom Line

If adults in these four Central American countries expected a bleak future for unaccompanied children in 2015, it's hard to imagine they would have higher hopes for them today, as the Trump administration's controversial move to separate children from their migrant parents has created a crisis it is now trying to undo amid public pressure and a court order. At the time, most adults did not feel it was justified to send children off on their own, but even small percentages of those who said it was justified represent millions across these four countries.

According to the United Nations, the number of refugees fleeing Central America has spiked again. UNHCR (the U.N. refugee agency) has called on the international community to assist in protecting them -- but depending on where these migrants go, they may not find refuge.

Survey Methods

These results are based on face-to-face interviews conducted in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, with a random sample of 1,000 adults in each country, aged 15 and older. Interviews were conducted June 21-July 3, 2015, in El Salvador; May 19-30, 2015, in Guatemala; July 5-18, 2015, in Honduras; and June 5-21, 2015, in Nicaragua. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±3.5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level for El Salvador and ±3.6 percentage points at the 95% confidence level for Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

Learn more about how the Gallup World Poll works.

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