Influx of Central American gang members will hit U.S. borders

BRIAN RESNICK for National Journal

Federal officials have predicted that nearly 90,000 Central American minors will illegally enter the U.S. this year, a number that has risen from an earlier estimate of 60,000. The mass exodus of young gang members from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala has triggered a state of emergency for the Border Patrol.

According to the National Journal, these gang members are flooding to the U.S. not for economic opportunity, but for safety. 

"Yes, the U.S. immigration system is now bottlenecked with the influx, prompting emergency response from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But changing U.S. border policy won't stem the root of the exodus.

"The normal migration patterns in this region have changed," Leslie Velez, senior protection officer at the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, explains. These people aren't coming here for economic opportunity. They are fleeing for their lives.

Earlier this year, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees surveyed 404 children from Mexico and Central America who arrived in the United States illegally, and asked a simple question: Why did you leave? The report found "that no less than 58% of the 404 children interviewed were forcibly displaced" to a degree that warranted international protection, meaning that if the U.S. refused these children, it could be in breach of U.N. conventions.

Velez was one of the authors of that report, interviewing undocumented immigrant children across the U.S. immigration system for two hours each. They told Velez and her team stories of extreme violence, and fear of being caught up in gangs. Forty-eight percent of the children "shared experiences of how they had been personally affected by the augmented violence" at the hands of "organized armed criminal actors, including drug cartels and gangs, or by state actors."

A timeline of homicide rates across Central America, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Honduras leads the region for the fifth consecutive year. Corey Kane/The Tico Times

A timeline of homicide rates across Central America, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Honduras leads the region for the fifth consecutive year. Corey Kane/The Tico Times

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