The root cause of the migration of Central American child refugees lies in the post-war conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. This is according to Jose Guadalupe Ruelas, of Casa Alianza in Honduras, who spoke during a meeting this morning at the New York Immigration Coalition, in Manhattan.
Ruelas, who works on behalf of the rights of children in Central America, said that those countries have never been constructed after the devastating wars in the region in the 1980s and 1990s that took several hundred thousand lives.
“There are millions of young people in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala who don’t have access to school, but that is not their only deprivation. They also don’t have access to health care, jobs, or even clean water. This leaves them open to exploitation and abuse,” Ruelas said.
“With the growth of violence and gangs, many of the young people feel a lack of options. They can join a gang or flee the country,” Ruelas told the audience.
This leads to many of them to leave for the United States rather than become participants in the violence.
In Honduras, the growing gangs now outnumber the police and security forces combined. The gangs bring in money from drug smuggling and extortion. Efforts to crack down on the gangs have been ineffective and only led to greater social polarization.
When families decide that their children need to leave, they are making a grave choice, Ruelas said.
The journey north is expensive and dangerous. The children will be vulnerable to kidnapping, rape, assault, and murder every step of the way. The parents are aware that they may never see their children again, whether or not they arrive safely in the United States, yet the situation in northern Central America is so dire that it is impossible for them to stay.
Although the overall number of children coming to the United States from northern Central America is down this year, the conditions that gave rise to the influx persist.