McALLEN, June 29 – The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ Institute Leadership Team says it is “deeply troubled” that thousands of Central American children are forced to flee their home countries because of out-of-control violence in the region.
The group says it is also “disturbed” by the reaction some members of Congress to the “humanitarian crisis” occurring on the southwest border.
“The situation on the Texas border is not the result of lax border security or rumors about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program; instead evidence points to the increase of violence in Central America as the main contributing factor for this phenomenon,” wrote Sister Patricia McDermott, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, in a letter to members of Congress on June 23.
The Sisters of Mercy charity group, otherwise known as Hermanas de la Misericordia, says it stands in solidarity with undocumented immigrants coming to the United States seeking the “fullness of life.”
In a four-page document, titled Crisis at the Border: Unaccompanied Migrant Children, the group says tens of thousands of immigrants are exiting the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala) due to increased gang and cartel violence.
The document cities on a report from the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops, which sent a delegation on a fact-finding trip to Central America last November.
The Guardian is reprinting the Sisters of Mercy document in two parts. The first part deals with what is happening in the Northern Triangle. The second part focuses on “debunking the myths” of why it is happening.
Here is part one of the document:
The Department of Homeland Security estimates that 60,000 unaccompanied children will migrate to the United States in Fiscal Year 2014. Next year, DHS predicts that the number could spike to as many as 120,000 children, not including children traveling with a parent.
While unaccompanied migrant children are by definition under the age of 18, many of these children are significantly younger. There are some reports of children as young as two or three crossing without an adult.
Until 2011m the annual number of unaccompanied migrant children was steady, around 7,000 a year. After 2011 the number has roughly doubled annually. Since October 1, 2013, (the beginning of the 2014 fiscal year) 48,000 children have risked the journey to the United States. Right now, one in 250 youth from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have come to the United States in the last six months, which is the equivalent of three or four students per high school.
Why is this happening?
In November 2013, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops led a delegation to Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, to determine why these children are coming at such an alarming rate. They found that while extreme poverty was a push factor, the overriding determinant was “violence at the state and local levels and a corresponding breakdown of the rule of law, (which has) threatened citizen security and created a culture of fear and hopelessness.”
Since 2011 the increase in children migrants from the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras) is up 700 percent of Guatemalans, 930 percent of El Salvadorians, and 1,300 percent for Hondurans. The mass exodus from these three countries mirrors the dramatic increase in violence in the region. Together, they lead the world in homicide rates, with Honduras ranking number one.
Over the last few years, cartels, primarily the Zetas Cartel, have established operational control of many areas in the Northern Triangle. Additionally, gang culture is on the rise and many neighborhoods are now under the authority of the 18th Street gang or MS-13. Often corrupt police forces exacerbate the fear of violence, as they have no accountability and have engaged in extra-judicial killings in Honduras.
Due to an unreliable legal system, roughly one percent of crime is ever prosecuted in the Northern Triangle countries. Increasingly, a child’s fate is at the hands of criminal elements. The USCCB report stated that the delegation “heard of accounts of gang members infiltrating schools and forcing children to either join their ranks or risk violent retributions to them and their families.”
While this situation is bad in Guatemala and El Salvador, Honduras is the epicenter of this crisis. In some Honduran cities such as San Pedro Sula, the homicide rate is now 180 per 100,000, more than 11 times the rate in Chicago. In the region, there are approximately 70 murders a month of youth under the age of 23. In Honduras between January and March this year, the number climbed to 90 murders a month, equaling 247 deaths by April 1, 2014. Honduran males between the ages of 15 and 30 now have a one in 300 chance of being killed.
Tragically, this problem is getting worse in the region. Since 2005, the rate of homicide of females in Honduras is up 346 percent. For males, it is up 292 percent. Increasingly, in the Northern Triangle countries, option of staying in their community is more dangerous than risking the journey north to the United States.