Vicious Cycle: Deport Criminals to Central America, Gangs Grow and Children and Others Flee the Region to the U.S.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014
Central American immigrants on the way to the U.S. Mexico border (photo: Eduardo Verdugo, AP)

The story of thousands of unaccompanied children pouring into the United States in search of better, safer lives begins not in Central America, from where these youths originate. Rather, the immigration crisis started in Washington, when the Obama administration decided to deport thousands of convicts, many of them gang members, back home, which helped turn Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala into crime centers that prompted families to send their children on a perilous trek to the United States.


“The gangs here threaten us,” Honduran farmer Kelvin Arita told National Geographic. “They come and tell us that they're going to kill us. If I go to the U.S. I may get killed on the way, but if I stay here I’ll also get killed.”


Four years before the current immigration crisis erupted, U.S. immigration officials embarked on an aggressive campaign to deport thousands of convicts.


Nearly 100,000 criminals were shipped from the U.S. to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras from 2010 to 2012—a total that eclipsed the number deported during the previous six years combined, according to the Miami Herald. Many of those deportees joined criminal gangs that had been transplanted from the United States, leading to spikes in murders and violence that made life unbearable for ordinary citizens.


 “I would say that these deportations are the most important factor behind the spread of criminal violence in our countries, which is the chief reason behind the children coming here,” Francisco Portillo, president of Francisco Morazán Honduran Organization in Miami, which helps families who have children arriving at the border, told the Herald.

Once the criminals went south, the number of unaccompanied children heading north skyrocketed. From 2011 to 2012, it soared 91% from 6,800 to 13,000, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It went up again last year, when more than 24,000 unaccompanied children crossing the border. This year, the total is expected to reach more than 60,000 children by the end of September.


Meanwhile, Honduras has become the murder capital of the world, with 90.4 homicides per 100,000 in 2012, the highest anywhere. El Salvador and Guatemala are also in the top five.


“Drug cartels and associated street-gang activity in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, which respectively have the world’s No. 1, 4 and 5 highest homicide rates, have left near-broken societies in their wake,” General John Kelly, head of the U.S. Southern Command, told the Military Times. “Although there are a number of other countries I work with in Latin America and the Caribbean that are going in the same direction, the so-called Northern Triangle [Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras] is far and away the worst off.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Deportation of Criminals Blamed for Exodus from Central America (by Alfonso Chardy, Miami Herald)

American-Born Gangs Helping Drive Immigrant Crisis at U.S. Border (by Scott Johnson, National Geographic)

Could Kids Fleeing Central America Be Sent Back to Face More Gang Violence? (by Pamela Constable)

Why do Unaccompanied Minors Try to Come to the U.S.? They’re Fleeing Violence, Gangs and Poverty…and Looking for Family Members (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Feds Target L.A. Gang that U.S. Deportation Policy Helped Expand (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)


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