CANAMID Central America-North America Migration Dialogue

PB#02: A portrait of U.S. children of Central American origins and their educational opportunity

Bryant Jensen and James Bachmeier

Educational opportunity—access to high quality schooling—is a critical aspect of social mobility and integration in the United States. This policy brief provides a demographic portrait of children with Central American heritage, with a focus on educational opportunity. We describe educational outcomes as well as some institutional conditions and family circumstances associated with opportunity.

Nearly 1.7 million children (ages 0 to 17 years) of Central American origin lived in the United States in 2011. Guatemalan, Salvadoran, and Honduran origins are the most prevalent. Central American families settle throughout the U.S., though California, Texas, and Florida are the most common destination states. Most children of Central American origins (86%) were born in the United States, and most (82%) live in immigrant households (those with one or more foreign-born parents).

Among their Latino peers, children of Central American origins (40%) are the most likely to have an undocumented parent. Having an undocumented parent is associated with weaker educational opportunity—e.g., lower parent education, higher poverty, and lower rates of health insurance coverage.

Overall, children of Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran origin have weaker educational opportunity than their peers from the rest of Central America. These differences are associated with pre-existing social inequalities within migrant-sending communities, the selectivity of migrants versus non-migrants in their countries of origin, and structural inequalities in the U.S. school system.

The integration of Central American-origin children into the U.S. mainstream, as with other Latinos, is an intergenerational process. By the third generation, however, it appears that many children with Central American heritage are not integrated. Poverty, overcrowded housing, and health coverage rates between those with documented immigrant and U.S.-born parents are comparable. We conclude with four recommendations to improve educational opportunity of Central-American-origin children.

ISBN: 978-607-486-332-1

Suggested citation:

Jensen, Bryant and Bachmeier, James D. (2015) “A portrait of U.S. children of Central American origins and their educational opportunity”, CANAMID Policy Brief Series, PB02, CIESAS: Guadalajara, Mexico. Available at:

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