The Public Religion Research Institute Strikes Again: The "Unaccompanied Children" Poll, Pt. 2

By Stanley Renshon on October 21, 2014

The Public Religion Research Institute ought to be more careful with both its polling and its commentary on it. It has already put into the public domain a thoroughly misleading poll on the public's preferred choices on immigration reform. That poll gave respondents two options, only one of which was at all plausible.

Their most recent attempt to report the public's views is a poll devoted to the summer surge of illegal migrants, or "unaccompanied children," as the survey repeatedly refers to them.

Related: Read Part One of the Public Religion Research Institute Blog Series.

As I noted in my last entry, the image of these "children" traveling alone to the United States, was inaccurate. A substantial number of them were in the care of and accompanied by adults while traveling.

The estimable Pew Research Center also uses the term "unaccompanied children." They report: "As the number of unaccompanied children trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border has surged, the increase in apprehensions among children ages 12 and younger has been far greater than among teens, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of previously unreleased government data."

Oddly, that usage by Pew comes at the start of a report that underscores that the image of "children" is inaccurate.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2013, 91 percent of what they called "unaccompanied minors" apprehended at the border were teenagers. In 2014, 84 percent of the 46,932 minors apprehended were teenagers.

The term "children" is guaranteed to stimulate protective and sympathetic feelings, and it does. "Unaccompanied children" is a term that delivers a double dose of those feelings, and for many who use the term that is one of its purposes.

The word "children" certainly fits those persons who are five years of age and younger. However, the Pew Research Center reports that in 2013, only 283 such children were processed at the border and in 2014, 785 were. That was out of 74,786 minors processed in those two years.

You would be right to ask: How does a five-year-old travel a thousand miles by him or herself? And the answer is, of course, they don't. They are accompanied, contrary to the adjective that PRRI and Pew use in their surveys.

One could easily extend the term "children" to those who are six to 12 years of age. Pew reports that the number of immigrants in that age range processed at the border was 3,162 in 2013 and 6,676 in 2014. That's an overall increase of 117 percent in 2014 for minors under the age of 12 — a disturbing figure that suggests an expectation of success if you get here is taking hold.

However, those figures also reveal that of the 74,786 minors processed at the border in 2013 and 2014 (at the time of the Pew report), only 14 percent were really what most people would agree are "children," that is under five, or alternately, 12 or under.

Or, to put it another way, 86 percent of the "minors" processed at the border in the two-year period reported by Pew were not children.

Next: The Public Religion Research Institute Strikes Again: The "Unaccompanied Children" Poll, Pt. 3