Unaccompanied Immigrant Children 

Message Triangle developed from the Unaccompanied Immigrant Children research

Message Triangle developed from the Unaccompanied Immigrant Children research

2014 saw a surge in unaccompanied children from Central America seeking refuge in the United States. Given the size and speed in which the surge happened, many became to refer to it as an immigration crisis. By the summer of 2014, tens of thousands of women and children were migrating north, many with no parent on hand to provide care and security. 

It was during this time that my team and I at Lake Research undertook critical research on the topic of unaccompanied immigrant children to better understand how to communicate this issue to voters. The research among non-Hispanic swing voters revealed a clear direction for communication and messaging around this issue.

Some of the key takeaways from the research include: 

  • Refer to these children simply as “children.” Most believe it’s more feasible to resolve this crisis if children can be united with family. Avoid references to these children as teenagers. “Children” evoke more of a sense of crisis and call to action to help the vulnerable.
  • Emphasize the level of violence ongoing in Central America. Voters are unaware of the severity of violence and control of drug cartels and gangs in the region. It also helps to visually show how dangerous and desperate the situation must be for a parent to put a child on this journey.
  • Messages that evoke the value of compassion work especially well with voters, particularly when paired with the argument we have to keep these children protected and safe. Do not use the word “responsibility.” Even the most sympathetic of voters, who want to take in these children, deeply resent the assertion that it is our responsibility as Americans to do so.
  • Voters respond well to the idea of providing a fast, fair, and legal process and establishing order. Voters also think there should be a short-term and long-term solution. It helps to call this a crisis for immediate action. Voters have increased dramatically their desire for comprehensive reform and believe this is indicative of a broken system that lurches from crisis to crisis. Voters also respond to our government pushing and using leverage to have the countries of origin deal with their problems, and for us to crack down on smugglers.

You can find a full summation of the research findings in the Opportunity Agenda's August 2014 Public Opinion Monthly messaging document, Talking About Unaccompanied Refugee Children Fleeing Harm

Welcoming America has also released a presentation based on the findings, Talking about Children Fleeing Violence: What Works, What Doesn’t

A copy of our full briefing memo can be found here