The Politics of Fear: Unaccompanied Immigrant Children and the Case of the Southern Border

66 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2016 Last revised: 13 Sep 2018

Date Written: April 12, 2016


Thousands of Central American children have migrated to the United States by themselves in the last two years. More are on the way as their governments continue to expose them to violence, neglect, poverty and exploitation, compelling them to flee to the border between Mexico and the United States. Humanitarian and pragmatic concerns raise questions of how best to deal with their migration, questions that have been asked with similar migrations of unaccompanied children to the United States in the past. This paper focuses on how politicians and government officials have consistently responded to those concerns with fear-based rhetoric. I argue that fear has colored legal developments regarding unaccompanied minors in a way that has made them uniquely vulnerable to systemic abuse, impeded due process and subordinated them in the legal order. However, there is a floor of Constitutional protections afforded to these children that has been slowly built in recent years, largely through public law litigation filed to correct these injustices. This article contextualizes recent developments to secure rights for unaccompanied immigrant children at our southern border, rooting these efforts in the racism, exclusion and militarization of the border itself and marking potential judicial points of departure in securing more rights for children and forcing immigration authorities to safeguard children’s dependencies, rather than exploit them.

Keywords: immigration, children, unaccompanied minors, family, family unity, due process, detention

JEL Classification: K00, K41

Suggested Citation

Rogerson, Sarah Hill, The Politics of Fear: Unaccompanied Immigrant Children and the Case of the Southern Border (April 12, 2016). Villanova Law Review, Volume 61, 2016, Albany Law School Working Papers Series No. 17 for 2015-2016, Available at SSRN:

Sarah Hill Rogerson (Contact Author)

Albany Law School ( email )

80 New Scotland Avenue
Albany, NY 12208
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics