Close to 50,000 children have been stopped crossing the U.S.-Mexican border since October, the vast majority coming from Central American countries.
Republicans and their allies blame President Obama, for what they say are lax immigration enforcement policies. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, for example, says the lone child migrants are inspired by Obama’s “lawlessness,” namely his 2012 executive order halting deportations for some immigrant youth.
Most experts say the real story is more complicated. Anecdotal reports suggest some young people are making the journey because they, or their parents, think the U.S. is more likely to let them stay. And some of that is due to change in law that took place in the Bush Administration, not under Obama’s watch. (Dara Lind had a nice primer on this at Vox.)
But few knowledgeable people think that’s the whole story. Three-fourths of migrants apprehended have come from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—countries with particularly high rates of violence. The reason is gang violence that appears to be getting worse.
Based on United Nations data, Honduras’ murder rate is the highest in the world. El Salvador and Guatemala aren’t that far behind. If you want to know why people in those countries are increasingly desperate to leave them, and come to the U.S., just look at this graph comparing homicide rates in those countries to the rate in the U.S. Is desperation to enter the U.S. really a surprise?
The Administration announced Friday it would emphasize enforcement in response to what Obama called an “urgent humanitarian situation,” by opening new detention centers and speeding up deportations. The White House will also send aid to the countries to attack the “root cause” with millions of dollars to USAID programs that improve security and prevent crime and violence.
Rebecca Leber is a staff writer for The New Republic.