A new wave of refugees from Central America, many of them children traveling alone, are crossing illegally into the United States, according to Arizona Public Media.
From January 2014 to April 2014, 28,000 Central American children came into the United States. That number fell by half in 2015, then rose to 27,000 children in 2016 between January and April, almost reaching the 2014 high.
Many of the children flee Central America to escape drug violence in their homelands, according to PBS NewsHour. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime provided data that show countries in the region that stretches from Nicaragua to Guatemala have the highest murder rates in the world. San Pedro Sula in Honduras is the deadliest city in the world. Guatemala and El Salvador also have high murder rates. This drug violence, along with gang violence, has caused the migration increase.
In February, Agency Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske asked the House Appropriations Committee for $12 million and a contingency fund of up to $23 million to handle approximately 75,000 children expected to cross the border in 2016, about the same number as in 2014.
According to law enforcement officials in Yuma County, the county in Arizona’s southwestern corner has seen a surge in immigrants crossing the border this year, especially with children. In 2014, the county saw 178 children cross the border. There were already 1,500 child immigrants in Yuma County by March 2016.
“They’re not what you would consider a typical border crosser. Many of these people are from other nations, other than Mexico. Central America, Chinese, Romanians are a big one right now, and so that’s kind of a change in what we’ve come to expect here,” Yuma Sheriff’s Capt. Eben Bratcher said.
In Yuma and other places along the Mexican border, shelters and churches have taken in the immigrants.
Melanie Nelson of Yuma County Outreach told Arizona Public Media that about 25 women arrive each week with their children.
“If they’ve gotten here, they’ve made it. This is the easiest part of the trip where there are bus drivers that are able to protect them much more so than at any other time on their trip,” Nelson said.
One immigrant from Guatemala, Beatriz Escalante, said she hitch-hiked through her entire journey and surrendered after climbing over the wall. She is temporarily staying in Yuma until she goes to Chicago for an immigration court date.
“For my child, because there’s no work [in Guatemala] and here they can help me,” Escalante said in Spanish while holding her son.
Immigration has been brought to the forefront of the 2016 presidential election as presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump has proposed building a wall at the Mexican border to stop undocumented immigrants from entering the United States.
It is expected that 75,000 children from Central America will enter the U.S. illegally this year.