Which Way Home: Uncovering the Motivations of Undocumented Immigrants

Since I began my research of undocumented immigrants late last year, I was under the impression that the greater part of young, undocumented children arrive in the United States in the company of their parents or another guardian (presumably related by blood). Perhaps this was the result of my fairly sheltered upbringing: my parents were wary of allowing me to cross our quiet suburban street by myself before age eight, let alone allow me to traverse the entire length of a country.

Or, perhaps I arrived at this assumption based on my research of consent theory, largely rooted in John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government and Some Thoughts Concerning Education. Locke posits that before children reach the age of reason (that is, the time in their lives at which individuals have accumulated sufficient knowledge to thoughtfully and legitimately make their own decisions), their parents are charged with protecting and instructing their dependents. This process is extensive and, at times, intrusive, curtailing a child’s freedom and individuality with the expectation that their parents’ involvement will be in their son’s or daughter’s best interest. Moreover, because children have every reason to assume their parents’ actions are in their best interest and have not the knowledge or authority to adequately challenge any thoughts they may have to the contrary, children are thought to consent (albeit tacitly) to their parents’ guardianship and education.

Finally, this opinion may have been shaped by the rhetoric surrounding the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, legislation that provides a systematic means by which young, undocumented immigrants may legalize their status and, eventually, naturalize, upon satisfying specific civic-based conditions. Among the most compelling arguments for the DREAM Act is the supposition that these children, unlike their parents, did not choose to break immigration laws. “They came like luggage,” observed journalist Douglas McGray in 2006, and “these children…suffer from the consequences of their parents’ mistakes,” noted Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies. President Obama has been among the most explicit in his advocacy, claiming, “They didn’t break the law—they were kids,” at a press conference following this bill’s death in the Senate in 2010. Proponents also suggest that the United States is the only home that most of the young undocumented people have ever known, and that many young migrants do not possess a living memory of and maintain few (if any) social, linguistic, or cultural ties to their country of origin. Therefore, children are not responsible and should not be punished for actions to which they did not expressly consent.

In contrast, Which Way Home (2007), a documentary film directed by ­­­­­Rebecca Cammisa, strikes a heavy blow to this notion. Following several unaccompanied children from Central America as they ride “The Beast,” a freight train bound for the United States, Cammisa’s team reveals how migrating to the United States is a personal choice for some young boys and girls who hold strong convictions regarding their decisions. Oftentimes, they seek to reunite with family members who have already made the dangerous journey and established themselves, but others (knowing no one and possessing nothing) merely hope to find a kind American family to adopt them. Still others migrate in hope of advancing themselves economically and professionally, and many search for opportunities to support and improve the lives of those they left behind.

Considering the degree of courage (or is it foolishness?) that this type of expedition requires, I was shocked to learn of the concerted decisions of these children to travel on their own. They were neither encouraged nor accompanied by their parents or guardians; many times, the parents did not know their child desired to leave until they discovered a note left behind or received disturbing news from the police or Mexican immigration officials. Moreover, this choice to migrate alone completely strikes down one of the pillars of my argument for immigration reform that would support undocumented children in the United States—that nearly all children are brought here and enter the United States without their knowledge or express consent. Evidently, this is no longer the case.

This unambiguous and independent expression begs the question: is irresponsible parenting or the underestimation of the decision-making capacity of these children to blame? And, as one of the forefathers of our modern system of education and an authority on consent, what would John Locke say?

In the posts that follow, I delve into the issues of consent and responsibility further and, based on his written works and secondary sources, proffer Locke’s response. In the meantime, I am eager to hear your views toward young children who choose to migrate for — and by — themselves, and I encourage everyone to watch Which Way Home. (Conveniently, it is available to watch instantly on Netflix!)

Best wishes,




  1. Brittanicus says:


    Every American should read the full consequences of the New Dream Act. The Dream Act in itself is not the problem; the chain migration that spins out-of-control afterwards is the serious monetary issue. It’s another wrench in the works, which is heading this country to overpopulation and overspending.

    Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has issued a statement highlighting 10 things Americans need to know about the newly introduced DREAM Act. On Tuesday, the Senate Immigration Subcommittee held its first ever hearing on the DREAM Act, but few Senators were in attendance because of conflicts with other committee meetings and votes on the Senate floor. Learn about the lies being published in the Liberal oriented press and that DREAM ACT is just part of a stealth Amnesty, which the open border heretics are trying to pass on the unaware public.

    Bombard Senate phone switchboard—202-224–3121 and House—202-225–3121, and inform them you will not be manipulated into another clandestine Amnesty, disguised as the DREAM ACT.

    In the release, Sen. Sessions said that the bill “would offer amnesty to over 2 million illegal aliens” and according to the Congressional Budget Office would add “more than $5 billion to the federal deficit”. 1. The DREAM Act Is NOT Limited to Children. 2. The DREAM Act Will Be Funded On the Backs Of Hard-Working, Law-Abiding Americans. 3. The DREAM Act Provides a Safe Harbor for Any Alien, Including Criminals, From Being Removed or Deported If They Simply Submit An Application. 4. Certain Inadmissible Aliens and ALL Deportable Aliens, Including Those From High-Risk Regions, Will Be Eligible For Amnesty Under The DREAM Act. 5. Certain Criminal Aliens—Including Drunk Drivers—Will Be Eligible For Amnesty Under The DREAM Act. 6. Conservative Estimates Suggest That At Least 2.1 Million Illegal Aliens Will Be Eligible For the DREAM Act Amnesty; In Reality, We Have No Idea How Many Illegal Aliens Will Apply.

    7. The DREAM Act Does Not Require That an Illegal Alien Finish Any Type of Degree (Vocational, Two-Year, or Bachelor’s Degree) As a Condition of Amnesty. 8. The DREAM Act Does Not Require That an Illegal Alien Complete Military Service As a Condition For Amnesty, and There Is Already a Legal Process in Place For Illegal Aliens to Obtain U.S. Citizenship Through Military Service. 9. Despite Their Current Illegal Status, DREAM Act Aliens Will Be Given All the Rights That Legal Immigrants Receive—Including the Legal Right To Sponsor Their Parents and Extended Family Members For Immigration. 10. Current Illegal Aliens Will Get Federal Student Loans, Federal Work Study Programs, and Other Forms of Federal Financial Aid. This urgent information should be read by every American, who realize that illegal immigration is become out-of-control. For serious statistics, the true costs and the lies and propaganda from the Obama Administration go to http://www.NumbersUSA.com website.

    If you haven’t already done so, join your local TEA PARTY, as thousand of disfranchised Americans. This is possible the last chance to halt another mass amnesty or as the Liberal Democrats illicitly call it Immigration Reform. According to the Commerce Dept there are eight million foreign nationals with jobs, which should be in the hands of 13 million US workers.

    In a report recently by CBS News there are some disturbing statistics that millions of Black Americans are living with depression-era unemployment rates. Blacks are not the only ones hurting, while 8 million illegal aliens have jobs. Unemployment rates are high among almost every class of worker, especially among Citizens, permanent residence, of Blacks, Hispanics, and teenagers. So why is Left side in Congress, using their power to give passage to the Dream Act, that will snowball into family members gaining residence through CHAIN MIGRATION and even more financial problems? The truth is irrefutable, that our schools are overcrowded with illegal alien children, including a law that says anybody who crosses the border, flies in by plane or enters by ship must be given health care, no matter if uninsured. These are mandated laws that have been approved by Liberal Judges.

    Chain Migration is the outrageous phenomena that build on it and over years a 100 thousand immediate family members could expedited into millions of people. To sponsor you must prove that you have enough money to support the father and mother, sister and brother, but this develops into a crisis and lose of the sponsor originator losing his job or other issues, the older folk could easily be forgotten and then must depend on US taxpayers to subsidize their lives. Eventually they will all need Medicare, even though they never paid into the pool. Medicaid is also issued out to those below the poverty line and once again never paid into? Birthright citizens, the naturalized and permanent residence pay into the system through their paychecks and complement the people who came here through sponsorship to be supplemented with some sustenance.

    These are laws literary forced on taxpayers and individual States such as Arizona, Alabama, Georgia that are fighting back as every American State is suffocating under the relentless streams of illegal—ECONOMIC—aliens, coming here to pilfer the Federal and state treasuries. They are stealing jobs of Americans, lowering wages that “Old boy Club Republicans.” has a reputation for? We need to dismantle the IRS and begin a new taxing system, which is fair to all US taxpayers and not just especially favorable to the wealthy; that everybody pays their fair share. Americans must choose between the same old system of government, or vote in more TEA PARTY candidates. The Congress is really a partisan that considers US citizens and legal aliens as the underdog, squandering billions on senseless wars and forever building continuously more government agencies, subsidized on more and more taxes.

    Only Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) born in Iowa has a grading of B+ on enforcement of illegal immigrants. All the remaining Presidential hopes have lower grading, that includes Obama’s Liberal rating of (F minus).Bachmann will not allow Congress to pass any mass Amnesty, or Immigration reform; as President Obama, has such a plan to legitimize an estimated 20 million plus people that will cost 2.5 Trillion dollars for processing. ( A Calculated statistic of the Heritage Foundation.) The passage of the 1986 Simpson/Mazzoli bill was a waste of time and money, full of fraud and governmental corruption, at a cost of 76 Billion dollars to taxpayers. Bachmann as president and chairman of all-American TEA PARTY, will secure our borders, track over-staying pseudo tourists and students who remain is 40 percent of the illegal immigrant occupation. Michele Bachman states: As a constitutional conservative, I believe in the Founders’ vision of a limited government that trusts in and preserves the unlimited potential of the American people.

    All new arrivals are tracked in Mexico and our politicians should replicate all immigration laws in our adjoining nations. TEA PARTY leaders will introduce an amendment to the 14th Amendment, to deny instant-baby-citizenship if neither parent is a US citizen. This will close massive dollar welfare and public that is subsidizing millions of these children; food stamps, Medical Care, Wicca, Section 8 low income housing and free schooling to K-12, just to name a few benefits. Whereas the majority of Americans have no idea of all these freebies, illegal aliens receive and are well versed by relatives and friends to collect with false identification. This hundred billion dollar payout would lessen the fiscal burden on the American people over the years to come.

    Remember foreign nationals have been voting in federal and State elections; authorities are should be obligated to ID everybody who registers.

  2. klbrown01 says:

    I have been reading through your blog posts, and I think your project is really interesting! It is incredibly relevant considering the amount of attention illegal immigration attracts in today’s media and legal system. I also think it is interesting that you are making a connection with Locke’s philosophy and using it to examine the basics of citizenship; the discussion of what citizenship means to the immigrant and to the natural-born citizen was particularly eye-opening, as it was something I had never really thought about before (precisely because we are never really asked to consciously affirm our adherence to the state).
    I was just wondering more about your methods for collecting your information; are you traveling, conducting interviews, etc. in addition to bibliographical research?
    Good luck with the rest of your project, and I look forward to reading more as you progress!
    Katherine Brown