Latin America and Caribbean

For Many Central American Migrants, The US Border Is The Only Hope

Gang violence is prompting many Central American families to make the dangerous trek to the U.S.-Mexico border.

For Many Central American Migrants, The US Border Is The Only Hope
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The Trump administration's family separation policy prompted confusion and hesitation in migrant families. Before the practice was banned Wednesday, multiple outlets talked to families that were reconsidering whether to cross the U.S.-Mexico border under the rules.

But even the deterrent effect of possible family separation could only go so far: many Central American families say they're forced to make the trek to the U.S. because they're in mortal peril back home.

Instability and violence in three countries — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — is a major driver of Central American immigration to the U.S. 

Decades of civil war and strife in the region has left those countries vulnerable to organized crime. One of the most notorious gangs in the region, MS-13, was founded by Salvadorans fleeing the country's civil war in the '80s.

U.S. Border Patrol agent watch over a group of Central American asylum seekers before taking them into custody

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The gangs often survive through extortion, enacting brutal violence on the people who don't pay up. Many migrants flee their home countries to escape that lethal threat.

Fleeing to Mexico isn't much safer: many of the same Central American gangs operate in that country as well. Doctors Without Borders estimates that 68 percent of people traveling to the U.S. border from Central America face violence along the way.

The U.S. recently clamped down on its asylum rules, excluding people who face gang violence or domestic abuse from claiming asylum. And the White House says asylum-seekers will be arrested if they don't present themselves at valid ports of entry for processing.

Additional reporting from Newsy affiliate CNN.