The surge of young unaccompanied Central American migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border — overwhelming Border Patrol stations, detention facilities and immigration courts — has drastically declined since last year. But the migrant crisis is far from over; it has simply moved farther south.
While U.S. apprehensions and deportations have dropped, Mexican authorities deported about six times as many unaccompanied children as the United States in 2014, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank that analyzes migration patterns and responses worldwide.
That’s not a coincidence: Under pressure from the U.S. to crack down on migrants entering Mexico, President Enrique Peña Nieto launched the Southern Border Program in July 2014. Since then, some human rights groups have expressed concern that the journey has gotten only more dangerous, pointing to reports of violence targeting migrants in Mexico.
Despite the crackdown, migrants keep attempting the journey, undeterred by violence or deportation. America Tonight spoke to three young Central Americans about why they’re risking their lives to reach the United States.
Katia Orellana, 17, is trying to flee Honduras because of persistent violence in her country. Her home is in the heart of San Pedro Sula, a city with one of the highest homicide rates in the world. She paid a coyote $4,500 to help her get to the United States. On her first two attempts, she was caught by Mexican authorities in Veracruz and deported to Honduras.
When we met Katia outside the migration return center in San Pedro Sula, she told America Tonight she still plans to try again because her neighborhood, known for being controlled by gangs, is just too dangerous to stay. Young people face being killed, she says, and many are forced to sell drugs or become prostitutes.
This 15-year-old doesn’t want her name published because she plans to attempt the journey to the U.S. again, after being captured on her first try. She is desperately trying to get to United States to reunite with her mother, whom she hasn’t seen since she was 3 years old. Her aunt raised her in a city four hours outside San Pedro Sula, in an area the girl says is safe. During her first attempt, migration authorities picked her up in Veracruz along with Katia, whom she befriended during the journey.
She tells America Tonight that along her journey north, she saw lots of Mexican enforcement officials seeking out migrants. She and Katia were detained after the driver of the bus they were riding told authorities they were migrants.
Christian, 18, is traveling to the United States from El Salvador, where he says he was once in a gang. Staying at a shelter in Tapachula, Mexico, near the border with Guatemala, he tells America Tonight that he would like to leave that life behind and that he will be in danger if he returns to his country.
He has evaded authorities so far, but he did not escape the violence many migrants face on the journey to the United States. While he was crossing the Suchiate River between Guatemala and Mexico, he says, a group of people attacked him with a knife and stole his money. He says he wants to go to the United States to work and send money home for his family.