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Report: Where unaccompanied minors are coming from, illustrated

Three out of four unaccompanied migrant kids apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border this year is from Central America.
Three out of four unaccompanied migrant kids apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border this year is from Central America.
Pew Research Center

The Pew Research Center has put together some dramatic graphics illustrating the steep spike in unaccompanied minors arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, and where they are coming from.

The sheer volume of kids under 18 arriving without a parent or guardian has reached crisis proportions, stumping the federal government as officials rush to set up emergency shelters. More than 47,000 minors have been taken into custody by border authorities as of last Oct. 1, nearly double the number of child migrants taken in during all of fiscal year 2013.

The report cites an unofficial government estimate that projects as many as 90,000 unaccompanied minors being apprehended at the border in 2014. A bill is moving through the Senate this week that would provide almost $2 billion to help house and process them; another Obama administration initiative aims to provide them with legal support.

Where are these kids coming from and why? The biggest number is from Honduras, from where since 2009, the number of unaccompanied minors coming to the U.S. has risen by more than 1,200 percent. That's more 13,000 Honduran kids under 18 apprehended this year.

Why Honduras? Plagued by gang violence, Honduras has the world's highest murder rate: More than 90 murders per 100,000 residents in 2012, according to a United Nations study on homicide.

Following Honduras with the biggest spikes in unaccompanied minors are Guatemala and El Salvador, also countries with high rates of violence. In the same U.N. report, El Salvador ranked fourth in homicides in 2012. Both nations' outflow of child migrants has skyrocketed since 2009; the number apprehended from El Salvador has risen by more than 700 percent since, and from Guatemala by more than 900 percent.

Immigrant service providers who work with unaccompanied minors, as well as federal authorities, cite violence and poverty as the main drivers behind the growing crisis.

They say parents and guardians send their kids out of the country or, in the case of those already here, send for them to join them in the U.S., often not aware of how dangerous the trip can be. Many arrive after suffering abuse at the hands of smugglers or others along the way.

“They look at what they have facing them, which is a life of poverty, and it just seems so enticing to go ahead and make that trip," said Gabriella Busch, an immigration attorney in Ventura County, where the government opened an emergency shelter for migrant kids last week. "I’m pretty sure that if the parents knew what these kids are actually going through, they wouldn’t put them in that danger.”

According to the Pew Research report, three out of four unaccompanied migrant kids arriving this year has come from Central America. That said, although their numbers have dropped since 2009, there are still a significant number that arrive from Mexico. But most of these kids tend not to stay in the U.S. for long, and are typically reunited quickly with family in Mexico.

Because so many unaccompanied minors are arriving from Central America, they're landing mostly in South Texas: Seventy-one percent, or 33,470 kids, have arrived this year just in the Border Patrol's Rio Grande sector.

As for the others, the challenge is housing and caring for them while officials find and screen family members in the U.S. who can take custody while their deportation cases are pending.

See the full Pew Research report here.