Why are tens of thousands of unaccompanied children traveling thousands of miles to the U.S.? Is it to avoid violence? Or is it for a chance to live in a much wealthier country?

The answer will likely determine whether they can stay.

Last week, Fox News’ Catherine Herridge cited a government report showing that 219 of 230 illegal immigrants who were interviewed said they came to the U.S. because they thought they could get a free pass to American citizenship

Another study, by the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security, acknowledged that many “are probably seeking economic opportunities in the U.S.” But it also noted that others “come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the U.S. preferable to remaining at home.”

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Yet, despite the reverence the New York Times attaches to this one page Homeland Security report, it isn’t very convincing. It doesn’t really account for any other differences across countries. At the very least, what really needs to be done is to see how the rate of children coming from a particular country or city changes as the crime rate from that area goes up and down.

While talking to Greta Van Susteren on Thursday, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez placed the blame on violence from drug cartels as the cause of the increase in immigration.  Because of the violence, President Obama is weighing granting refugee status to young people coming from Honduras. 

Almost all the unaccompanied children who have arrived in the U.S. have come from three Central American countries – El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – and from Mexico.

The explosive growth in the number of unaccompanied alien children occurred only after 2011. So if it has been violence that made them leave, we would expect to see a spike in violent crime in their home countries.

But that is simply not the case. In none of those countries did homicide rates rise after 2011. To the contrary, the homicide rates fell in El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico, and the rate remained unchanged in Guatemala.

Those who claim violence is driving children to the U.S. ignore that the violence isn’t new and that it was even worse in the past, when few children were coming to the U.S. on their own.

Looking at each of these four countries since 2009, when the U.S. Border Patrol data on unaccompanied children coming to the U.S. starts, through 2013, three of the four countries clearly show that fewer children left to go to the U.S. when their murder rates went up.

Despite President Obama’s promise to send the illegal immigrants back to their home countries, his administration’s push to provide legal justifications for these children to stay shows his promise may not be worth very much. Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) and the National Border Patrol Council, a union representing thousands of Border Patrol agents, claim that 40 percent of the border agents have been removed from policing the border, providing an open invitation to even more to enter the country.

President Obama promised during his 2008 campaign to change America.  But gutting border security and making false claims to let illegal aliens stay in the U.S. is not change we can believe in.

John R. Lott, Jr. is a columnist for FoxNews.com. He is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns and op-eds on that issue are done in conjunction with the Crime Prevention Research Center. He is the author of nine books including "More Guns, Less Crime." His latest book is "The War on Guns: Arming Yourself Against Gun Control Lies (August 1, 2016). Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.