Central Americans rush to border
Fear of Trump win spurs efforts to get into USA quickly
The number of Central American children fleeing to the United States is booming again as security and economic troubles continue to grip El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The rush of minors across the southwest border became a political firestorm in summer 2014, prompting the Obama administration to enact emergency measures to stem the flow and drawing intense scrutiny from critics of the president’s immigration policies. Last year, the efforts seemed to work, as the number of unaccompanied minors from those three countries entering the U.S. dropped from nearly 70,000 in 2014 to 39,970.
Now the exodus to the USA is back on the rise. In the first 11 months of the 2016 fiscal year, which ends in September, 54,052 children made the journey. There are many reasons for the surge:
uIn El Salvador, people are fleeing a staggering level of violence that has made the country the murder capital of the world. It recorded a homicide rate of 104 people per 100,000 in 2015, the highest for any country in nearly 20 years, according to data from the World Bank.
uIn Honduras, violence has come down in recent years, with a 15% drop in homicides in 2015, meaning many people leaving there are seeking better economic opportunities in the U.S.
uIn Guatemala, pockets of intense violence are driving some to the U.S. But Guatemalan officials said at the United Nations this week that their migrants are leaving mostly for economic reasons and should not be considered refugees.
In all three, U.S. politics are at play. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has made a crackdown on illegal immigration a central tenet of his campaign. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates against illegal immigration, said the prospect of a Trump presidency is terrifying for would-be immigrants and is spurring the current rush.
Krikorian said the Obama administration’s “policy of deterrence” — warning Central Americans they will be deported if they make the voyage — has fallen flat.
“Eighty percent of the people (Customs and Border Protection) catches are released,” Krikorian said. “That’s not deterrence. You’d be an idiot not to get into the United States now while you can.”
The countries are making progress in addressing problems. In Honduras, the government created a commission to review all 14,000 members of the national police force, which has long been plagued by corruption. In the past few months, the commission has interviewed nearly 300 highranking police officers and dismissed 110, according to a report from the Wilson Center, a Washington-based think tank.
In El Salvador, the government passed a law that has made it more difficult for gang members to continue running their operations from prisons. Before, people could easily smuggle cellphones into jail and even set up Wi-Fi networks near the prisons so leaders could stay in contact with their gangs. But the new law has slowed that, according to Reuters.
President Obama requested $1 billion to help the so-called Northern Triangle countries improve their economies, security and immigration enforcement. Congress approved $750 million in December, but most of that money hasn’t arrived.