A child migrant crisis

A child migrant crisis


Driven largely by poverty and gang violence at home, waves of migrants have been streaming from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to the United States, hoping to carve out a better life.

The flow has swelled in recent months, but with a new dynamic as more children make the trek, many traveling without parents or relatives to care for them.

. Tegucigalpa, Honduras. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

“We want peace!” reads graffiti scrawled on the wall behind policemen searching two men for drugs and weapons in the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa.

Here, peace and stability are both a long way off. Honduras has the world's highest murder rate at 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people, and violent youth gangs effectively control sections of major cities and towns.

Health and education services are poor, and almost one-fifth of Hondurans live on under $1.25 a day, according to the World Bank.

Poor security here and elsewhere in Central America has prompted many to head north for the United States.

. Tula, Mexico. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

While violence has for years been a constant, human smugglers or “coyotes” are spurring on migrants by putting out the word that pregnant women and unaccompanied minors are treated more leniently and allowed to stay in the United States.

The administration of President Barack Obama insists they will be sent home but huge numbers have made the journey nevertheless.

In the eight months ended June 15, the U.S. has detained about 52,000 children at the Mexican border, double the figure the year earlier. There's no telling how many have gotten through.

. Nogales, United States. REUTERS/Ross D. Franklin/Pool

Some combination of hope and fear is driving these children, but for many the hope is illusory.

The image above shows the bleak reality of a holding area at U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Arizona, which has been central in helping to process the thousands of unaccompanied children who have entered the United States illegally in recent months.

Detention and processing facilities in Texas have been inundated, leading U.S. immigration authorities to begin sending some of the immigrants to overflow sites elsewhere in the Southwest to help screen and manage the surge.

U.S. officials stressed that they consider the crisis humanitarian, citing the danger facing children travelling thousands of miles in the hands of smugglers.

. Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Smuggling people to the United States is big business for gangs, who charge would-be migrants thousands of dollars a head to pass through their territory and over the border.

Migrants can pay coyotes and cartels between $1,000 and $12,000 to reach the United States, and those who do are the lucky ones. Some end up in forced labour or the sex trade, while others are recruited to the ranks of organised crime.

The image above shows the patio of a building seized and sealed by authorities in Ciudad Juarez, after it was identified as one of a series of safe houses for illegal immigrants used by a group of coyotes, according to police reports.

Police found the house after arresting a coyote who was with a 12-year-old Ecuadorean girl named Nohemi Alvarez Quillay, whose parents had paid a group of smugglers to bring her to the United States.

She was later sent to a government-run shelter for her protection where she committed suicide shortly after.

. Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Despite the risks involved, many still hope to make their way across the frontier.

The situation has fuelled political tension in the United States, with Republicans blaming lax border security and Obama's moves toward easing immigration rules for encouraging Central Americans to risk the long journey north to escape poverty, crime and violence at home.

Obama blames Republicans for refusing to pass legislation that would address broader immigration issues, such as whether to provide a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States.

. IXTEPEC, Mexico. REUTERS/Jose de Jesus Cortes

In the meantime, the flow of migrants continues, with many making their way aboard Mexico’s infamous “La Bestia” freight train.