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NYT: Children at Border Are Fleeing Gangs, Terrible Violence

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While Republicans continue to demagogue about how Central American children are coming to the US for “permisos,” Frances Robles at the New York Times today has an eye-opening story about the true cause behind the influx of children fleeing violence.  Often threatened with extreme and horrific violence in their home countries, these children (and their parents) see no alternative to migration, even if that means a dangerous journey alone through the desert.  Read more below for more about the subhuman conditions, or read the full New York Times story here.

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — Anthony O. Castellanos disappeared from his gang-ridden neighborhood on the eastern edge of Honduras’s most dangerous city, so his younger brother, Kenneth, hopped on his green bicycle to search for him, starting his hunt at a notorious gang hangout known as the “crazy house.”

They were found within days of each other, both dead. Anthony, 13, and a friend had been shot in the head; Kenneth, 7, had been tortured and beaten with sticks and rocks. They were among seven children murdered in the La Pradera neighborhood of San Pedro Sula in April alone, part of a surge in gang violence that is claiming younger and younger victims…

“The first thing we can think of is to send our children to the United States,” said a mother of two in La Pradera, who declined to give her name because she feared gang reprisals. “That’s the idea, to leave.”

Honduran children are increasingly on the front lines of gang violence. In June, 32 children were murdered in Honduras, bringing the number of youths under 18 killed since January of last year to 409, according to data compiled by Covenant House, a youth shelter in Tegucigalpa, the capital.

With two major youth gangs and more organized crime syndicates operating with impunity in Central America, analysts say immigration authorities will have a difficult time keeping children at home unless the root causes of violence are addressed.

In 2012, the number of murder victims ages 10 to 14 had doubled to 81 from 40 in 2008, according to the Violence Observatory at the National Autonomous University of Honduras. Last year, 1,013 people under 23 were murdered in a nation of eight million.

Although homicides dropped sharply in 2012 after a gang truce in neighboring El Salvador, so far this year murders of children 17 and under are up 77 percent from the same time period a year ago, the police said.

Nowhere is the flow of departures more acute than in San Pedro Sula, a city in northwestern Honduras that has the world’s highest homicide rate, according to United Nations figures.

Between January and May of this year, more than 2,200 children from the city arrived in the United States, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics, far more than from any other city in Central America.

More than half of the top 50 Central American cities from which children are leaving for the United States are in Honduras. Virtually none of the children have come from Nicaragua, a bordering country that has staggering poverty, but not a pervasive gang culture or a record-breaking murder rate. “Everyone has left,” Alan Castellanos, 27, the uncle of Anthony and Kenneth, said in an interview in late May. “How is it that an entire country is being brought to its knees?”

He said the gangs operated with total impunity. “They killed all those kids and nobody did anything about it,” Mr. Castellanos said. “When prosecutors wanted to discuss the case, they asked us to meet at their office, because they were afraid to come here. If they were afraid, imagine us.”

The factors pushing children to migrate vary, according to an analysis of their home cities by the Department of Homeland Security.

The Guatemalan children who arrive in the United States are more often from rural areas, suggesting their motives are largely economic. The minors from El Salvador and Honduras tend to come from extremely violent regions “where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the U.S. preferable to remaining at home,” the analysis said.

“Basically, the places these people are coming from are the places with the highest homicide rates,” said Manuel Orozco, a senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based research group. “The parents see gang membership around the corner. Once your child is forced to join, the chances of being killed or going to prison is pretty high. Why wait until that happens?”….

During a recent late-night visit to the San Pedro Sula morgue, more than 60 bodies, all victims of violence, were seen piled in a heap, each wrapped in a brown plastic bag. While picking bullets out of a 15-year-old boy shot 15 times, technicians discussed how they regularly received corpses of children under 10, and sometimes as young as 2.

Last week, in nearby Santa Barbara, an 11-year-old had his throat slit by other children, because he did not pay a 50-cent extortion fee.

“At first we saw a lot of kids who were being killed because when the gang came for their parents, they happened to be in the car or at the location with them,” said Dr. Darwin Armas Cruz, a medical examiner who works the overnight shift. “Now we see kids killing kids. They kill with guns, knives and even grenades.”

Dr. Armas said his family was thinking of migrating, too.

Read the full New York Times piece here.