Cen­tral Amer­i­cans rush to border

Fear of Trump win spurs ef­forts to get into USA quickly

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - NEWS - Alan Gomez @alan­gomez USA TO­DAY

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.

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