Migrants have long streamed out of Central America in large numbers, increasingly as family units, in attempts to flee poverty and violence.
The “Northern Triangle” of Central America — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador —rank among the most violent in the world, though homicide rates have fallen in recent years. Drug cartels move illegal merchandise through the region and street gangs control neighborhoods and routinely charge residents “rent” (a euphemism for extortion payments).
Caravans of migrants regularly convene as participants seek safety in numbers. Undocumented migrants transiting Mexico often fall victim to crimes such as kidnapping, extortion and rape — often committed by criminal gangs, drug cartels, coyotes and crooked public officials.
Analysts say most migrants are not dissuaded by the risk of the road and ignore admonishments from the U.S. government, or anti-immigrant sentiments that appear to be more prevalent in the country, because the situation is that dire in their own countries.
“Many Hondurans are or were leaving behind gang or domestic violence in marginalized neighborhoods, where government services are lacking and the day to day life may be controlled by the dominant gang,” said Stephanie Leutert director of the Mexico Security Initiative at the Strauss Center at the University of Texas.