Thousands of children and teenagers are escaping gang violence and the threat of human trafficking in Central and South America, and the rate of their migration is not showing signs of slowing down, according to a report by the United Nations.
In a report titled "Broken Dreams: Central American children's dangerous journey to the United States", the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund, commonly known as UNICEF, found 26,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico in the first six months of 2016. As many as 29,700 families — mostly mothers with young children — were also arrested.
In the 2014 fiscal year, specifically between October 1 and May 31, border agents apprehended a total of 47,017 children at the Southwest border between the U.S. and Mexico. At the height of that surge of child refugees, Obama tapped FEMA to lead an effort across federal agencies to tackle the border crisis. Most of the children entered through the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas.
Most of these refugees are running from violence and poverty in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador where poverty rates are 63 percent, 60 percent and 32 percent, respectively. The murder rates in Guatemala and Honduras are 57 and 30 out of every 100,000 residents, but the rate in El Salvador is the highest in the world: 103 homicides for ever 100,000 people.
The journey from these countries through Mexico is harrowing, and not everyone survives.
"It's about getting out of the country, which has so much poverty," said Alexis, a 18-year-old refugee from Honduras. He tried crossing to the United States when he was 16. "I wanted to get there and work and help my brothers and sisters and my mother."
"Unaccompanied children, as well as parents travelling with young children, are easy targets for the powerful crime syndicates that control parts of the migrant routes," the report states.
The U.S. deported more than 75,000 migrant nationals back to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in 2015. Unaccompanied children from countries that do not border the U.S. are guaranteed a trial in immigration court to plead their case for asylum.
In 2015, 40 percent without lawyers were deported, compared to the 3 percent who had lawyers.
"Despite the staggering levels of violence in their home countries, nationals from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras often find it difficult to convince the authorities that their claim for asylum or protection from deportation would have a reasonable chance of prevailing in court," the report states. "A first step to start the legal process."