The unprecedented surge in unaccompanied children at the U.S.-Mexico border was preceded by a sharp increase in the number of deportations to Central America of convicts, many of them gang members, says the Miami Herald. Between fiscal years 2010 and 2012, almost 100,000 convicts were repatriated to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, exceeding the total of criminal deportations in the previous six years. Immigrant-rights activists say the spike in criminal deportations likely played a key role in spreading gang violence in the three Central American countries, the situation many children cite as a reason for coming to the U.S.
“I would say that these deportations are the most important factor behind the spread of criminal violence in our countries, which is the chief reason behind the children coming here,” said Francisco Portillo, president of Miami-based Francisco Morazán Honduran Organization, which assists families with children at the border. The timing of the spike in deportations coincides with an increase in crime rates in the region and the surge in unaccompanied children coming across the border. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border jumped 91 percent from 2011 to 2012, from 6,800 to 13,000. It jumped further in 2013, when more than 24,000 unaccompanied children came across. More than 60,000 children are expected by Sept. 30. No U.S. official has acknowledged a link between the deportations and the exodus of unaccompanied minors.