When it comes to immigration, San Diego sits in a unique position as a major trans-border thoroughfare. A relatively unknown or little-discussed aspect of that is the undocumented young people who journey the the united States unaccompanied by adults. Recently, anthropologist Linda E. Sanchez presented her thesis on that topic, In Search of the American Dream: Undocumented Youth and the Journey Northat the museum. 

Sanchez defines undocumented youths as “individuals under the age of 18 who were alone and without their parents or relatives when apprehended by immigration officials.” She conducted her research by having one-on-one interviews with 20 boys and young men who traveled to the U.S. without adults and were living at a migrant shelter in Southern California (the real name of the shelter isn’t stated to protect the youths staying there). The participants were originally from Mexico, Honduras, El Savador, and Guatemala.

During interviews, the participants shared very personal and moving stories about their reasons for coming to the U.S., their
experiences actually travelling to the U.S., and what the American Dream means
to them. When crossing to the U.S., immigrants face dangerous conditions and
situations, including exposure to elements, drowning in rivers, assault and
violence, suffocation in car trunks or containers, and abandonment in the
desert. Despite the dangers and obstacles, people are determined to make it
across the U.S./Mexico border. The main reasons the participants cited for
coming to the U.S. are as follows:

  • Seeking employment opportunities – 63%
  • Reunification with family and friends –
  • Seeking a better education – 34%
  • To flee violence – 22%
  • Some participants cited a combination of
    these reasons as their motivation.

The presentation
highlighted the struggles of these minors during their crossing – Mexico is one
of the most dangerous countries to cross illegally – and once they made it to
the U.S. where their futures are in a state of limbo while they try to decide
where to go and what they’ll do once they leave the shelter.

The topic of Sanchez’s
thesis is a personal one – she comes from a family of immigrants. Sanchez said
of her motivation for researching immigration and unaccompanied youths:

“My parents brought me
to this country as a young child (6 years old) so I feel a strong connection to
the immigrant experience. Before I ever started grad school I knew that I
wanted to do my research on immigration. During grad school I started working
at the shelter as an intern, and I immediately felt drawn to the youth and
their stories. One of the main reasons I did this research was to raise
awareness about unaccompanied minors and to try to advocate for them.”

She hopes that her thesis work will raise awareness
of this aspect of immigration and will serve as a voice for these youths.
Sanchez plans to research this topic further as part of a future doctoral dissertation. 

E. Sanchez (pictured at top) earned her B.A. and M.A. in Anthropology from San Diego State
University. “In
Search of the American Dream: Undocumented Youth and the Journey North” is available now online.

Image at right: A fence separates Tijuana, Mexico (right) and an
area of San Diego, CA that is monitored by U.S. Border Patrol (left).