Despite rising numbers of unaccompanied child migrants in the Americas, very limited research directly engages with youth as they journey north to seek protection in the United States. In this article, the authors examine young Central American migrant experiences of bordering, focusing on policing and shelter management. Part of a wider binational, interdisciplinary, and multi-scalar research project along the Mexico-U.S. border, which began on the heels of Programa Frontera Sur, they draw on interviews and a participatory workshop with migrant youth, and complementary interviews with migration officials and shelter workers.
Through the uniquely insightful accounts of children themselves, they show how care work in shelters and direct control via policing emerge as powerful and connected techniques of bordering. In these spaces of connected securitization and humanitarian management, children negotiate highly violent, emotional, and extra-legal interactions with officials.
These include extortion, apprehension, aggression, confinement and deception, but also disciplinary forms of care and protection. Our findings deepen and complicate extant work on the humanitarian care/control nexus via our focus on, and direct research with, youth from Central America in Mexico.
Their narratives make clear that state policies such as Programa Frontera Sur expand the geographies of bordering and bring practices of migrant care and control into deeper relation. This bordering blocks children's access to legal protections like asylum; leaves them more exposed to exploitation and rights abuses; and encourages greater risk-taking in migration journeys.