Experts Blame the Child Migrant Crisis on America’s Drug War

By Victoria Kim 07/22/14

This past week, experts showed how America's wayward drug war has contributed to the humanitarian crisis spilling over its southern border.

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On Thursday, Congress heard testimony from author and journalist Sonia Nazario on the situation in Honduras, where drug trafficking has entrenched itself in recent years and drastically increased levels of violence.

Nazario, who serves on the board of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a nonprofit founded by Microsoft and Angelina Jolie that provides pro bono legal representation to unaccompanied refugee and immigrant children in the U.S., told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that after spending a week in the country, she witnessed a level of violence and corruption that left her “astounded.” The root of the violence, she said, is “the recent control by narco-cartels that has brought a new reach and viciousness to violence children in particular face in this neighborhood and throughout the country.”

“The U.S. has spent billions to disrupt the flow of drugs from Colombia up the Caribbean corridor. The narco-cartels, mostly Mexican, have simply re-routed inland, and four in five flights of cocaine bound for the U.S. now land in Honduras,” Nazario said in her opening statement before the committee. “These cartels are vying for control over turf and to expand drug distribution, sales, and extortion in these neighborhoods.”

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Bad Neighbor Policy: Washington’s Futile War on Drugs in Latin America and The Fire Next Door: Mexico’s Drug Violence and the Danger to America, called it a game of “squeeze the balloon.”

“While the pace of Mexico’s drug-related corruption and violence has eased slightly over the past two years, the situation in Central America has grown steadily worse,” he said. “The leading Mexican cartels began to move operations into Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador in 2008 as the pressure in Mexico mounted. It’s a game of ‘squeeze the balloon.’ Put pressure on the drug cartels in one area, and the drug trade just pops up somewhere else.”

As of 2012, 75% of all cocaine smuggling flights departing South America first land in Honduras, according to the U.S. State Department. The country’s Caribbean coastal region has become a primary landing zone for drug trafficking flights due to its remoteness, limited infrastructure, lack of government presence, and weak law enforcement institutions.

The drug cartels’ ill effect on Honduras is evidenced in the homicide rate. In 2007, the homicide rate was approximately 50 per 100,000 people. In 2012, the rate soared to more than 90 per 100,000. The homicide rate in the city of San Pedro Sula, in particular, is 187 killings per 100,000 people, earning it the sad distinction of being the murder capital of the world.

As the situation in Honduras goes from bad to worse, it’s no wonder that a large percentage of the unaccompanied minors making the perilous journey north now come from that country, said Carpenter.

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