When young Central Americans began arriving in high numbers in the United States last year, a common question was why the increase in arrivals now? The region had suffered from gang violence for more than a decade. What was different in 2014?
El Salvador, the source of the largest number of refugee children to arrive on Long Island, released its 2014 murder statistics last week and they help provide part of the answer. Homicides in El Salvador rose by 56 percent last year. Gang truces broke down, setting off widespread violence. The National Civil Police reported 3,875 murders in 2014 compared with 2,490 the year before. New York City, with 2 million more people than El Salvador, had 328 killings in the same period.
Fulbright Scholar Elizabeth Kennedy has conducted interviews with 600 newly arrived children from El Salvador. According to her research, 58% of the children say they left to escape gang violence. This reinforces findings by University of California professor Tom K. Wong as well as a report by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.