A lost generation in Central America : a public health perspective.


Clara Keane

Date of Award


Document Type



College of Liberal Arts

Degree Name

Bachelor in Arts


A seemingly unprecedented number of unaccompanied minors from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador was apprehended at the southern border of the United States during fiscal year 2014, spurring a media boom and reopening the dialogue of rebalancing immigration control and human rights. The U.S. simultaneously struggled to process these minors and to implement policies that would prevent subsequent influxes. Although current U.S. immigration policy is concerned first and foremost with the security of the nation, the young and vulnerable population that is arriving has changed the face and definition of refugees and highlighted their human rights. A public health perspective demands an interdisciplinary approach that analyzes root causes of any problem, notes failed approaches, and recommends preventative programming and policies that promote health. This comprehensive yet integrated analysis draws from the fields of sociology, economics, anthropology, and political science to deeply understand this influx and its etiologies. This thesis advocates a paradigm shift from immigration, which controls who may enter and what happens to individuals that do, to public health, which promotes policies focused on prevention. The provision of life choices for Central American youth will also solve, or at least reduce, the magnitude of the immigration problem while simultaneously saving the human potential of a generation. Structural systems that contribute to the vulnerability of these children are explored at the state-level, and the historic economic exploitation and international interventions of U.S. foreign policy in the Northern Triangle are criticized. I argue that U.S. foreign policy in the region should be reassessed to abandon policies created during the Cold War in favor of policies that reflect the country's twenty-first century, democratic ideals. Recommendations will be made for policy makers to prioritize the stabilization of the region through nation-building (i.e. strengthening schools, the police and health care facilities and an enlightened trade policy).