"Although some have traveled from as far away as Sri Lanka and Tanzania, the bulk are minors from Mexico and from Central America's so-called Northern Triangle - Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, which together account for 74 percent of the surge. Long plagued by instability and unrest, these countries have grown especially dangerous in recent years: Honduras imploded following a military coup in 2009 and now has the world's highest murder rate. El Salvador has the second-highest, despite the 2012 gang truce between Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18. Guatemala, new territory for the Zetas cartel, has the fifth-highest murder rate; meanwhile, the cost of tortillas has doubled as corn prices have skyrocketed due to increased American ethanol production (Guatemala imports half of its corn) and the conversion of farmland to sugarcane and oil palm for biofuel.
Many of the kids are coming to help a family in crushing poverty. Some are trying to join a parent who left years ago, before the recession and increased border enforcement slowed down adult immigration. Still others are leaving because of violence from family members and gangs. According to a report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 58 percent of the 400 youth the agency interviewed "had suffered, been threatened, or feared serious harm" that might merit international protection. "This is becoming less like an immigration issue and much more like a refugee issue," says Wendy Young, executive director of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a DC-based nonprofit that helps unaccompanied immigrant kids find pro bono legal services. "Because this really is a forced migration. This is not kids choosing voluntarily to leave."" - Ian Gordon, Mother Jones, July/Aug 2014.