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the Migratory Process

One's immigration story does not begin when they arrive at their host country, rather with the place they call "HOME"

The migratory process that immigrants experience can be described as occurring in three stages: 

pre-migration, peri-migration (the journey), and resettlement 

Everyone's migratory story is unique, however, among refugee and unaccompanied youth from Latin America, there are common experiences typical of each stage. 


The three pieces of art found above were created by teenagers from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and other countries when they were held in the Tornillo Children's Detention center in El Paso County between June 2018 and January 2019. 

Click to learn more about The art exhibit, "UNCAGED ART"

Photos: Frontera Studio



Pre-migration is the period of time before one leaves their home country. In the pre-migration stage, unaccompanied minors have reported many traumatic and adverse experiences that include the following (NCTSN, 2014; USCCB/MRS, 2012):

  • Trauma and Loss

  • Political and/or Economic Turmoil and Disruption

  • War

  • Attachment and Relational Ruptures

  • Lack of Consistent Caregivers

  • Lack of access to healthcare and other resources

  • Poverty

  • Organized Crime (Gangs)

  • Forced Labor

  • Community Violence

  • Interpersonal Violence

  • Child and Sexual Abuse

  • Natural Disasters


During pre-migration, refugee and unaccompanied minors from Latin America acquire and develop skills, strengths, and other internal/external supports that serve as protective factors during later stages of their migratory process. Some of these include: 

  • Collectivist Society (Multi-Generational homes; Family and Community Cohesion)

  • Cultural Values, Norms, Beliefs

  • Indigenous and Ancestral Knowledge

  • Faith/Religious/Spiritual Affiliation and Orientation

  • Bilingualism/Multilingualism

  • Skills Acquisition through Family and/or Community

  • Intrapersonal skills: Resilience, Resourcefulness, Self- Determination, Reliance, Agency, etc.


"The Journey"

During peri-migration, refugee and unaccompanied minors from Latin America embark on a dangerous journey by relying on individuals known as coyotes and polleros who they pay to smuggle them across to the United States. Throughout their journey, unaccompanied minors are at significant risk for the following (NCTSN, 2014, USCCB/MRS, 2012):

  • Extortion

  • Human and sex trafficking

  • Physical and sexual assault

  • Hunger and/or dehydration,

  • Exposure to the elements

  • Death


The risks do not cease when a minor crosses the United States/Mexico border, rather continue once apprehended and detained in overcrowded government-run detention facilities known as hieleras or "icebox." These facilities often lack adequate heating, food, and water (Collier, 2015), and reports have been made of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of facility staff and others (NCTSN, 2014).



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Wilfredo Lee/AP

Photographer: Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

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After being placed in the care of a sponsor, typically a family member, or in a foster home, refugee and unaccompanied minors enter into the resettlement stage which is marked by a myriad of stressors that are unique and compounded by the pre-existing trauma, grief, and loss history (NCTSN, 2014). 

According to Ellis et al. (2019), the third stage of resettlement is marked by four core stressors: 

1) Trauma:  the adverse and traumatic events experienced by refugee and unaccompanied youth can be a significant factor in their adjustment.

2) Resettlement Stress: stressors associated with accessing basic resources and necessary services the youth and their family need, such as health care and financial stability. 

3) Acculturative Stress: the stressors and challenges of adjusting to a new culture and language. 

4) Isolation: stressors associated with experiencing discrimination, alienation, and loneliness.

Trauma and Community Resilience Center's

This toolkit provides clinicians with information about the four core stressors that refugees and immigrants may face and sample questions to guide your assessment.

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