Children escaping Central America on their own have ended up in New Orleans.
Locals who have worked with the unaccompanied children blame terrible conditions in their homeland for the mass migration to the U.S.
Video of thousands of children in cramped spaces at U.S. shelters have begun to emerge.
"Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, and the route that kids are taking to the U.S. is the most direct route which brings them to the Rio Grande Valley," said Susan Weishar, Ph.D., migration specialist at the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University in New Orleans as she pointing to locations on a huge map.
Dr. Weishar has encountered some undocumented children in New Orleans who crossed the southwest border.
"In my volunteer work in the community, I have encountered children over the past year that came as unaccompanied minors. Fortunately, they were reunited with their family members here in New Orleans," she stated.
"It is a major humanitarian crisis," stated Martin Gutierrez of Catholic Charities in New Orleans.
He too has worked with unaccompanied children from Central America.
"Catholic Charities has an agreement with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops where we provide case management services, short term case management services to an unaccompanied minor who has come across the border who had been detained already by immigration, ICE and they are now trying to reunify them with their family here in New Orleans," said Gutierrez.
Gutierrez said since October, he has served 30 families and sees a growing number of families showing up at Catholic Charities needing help.
"They are leaving their country because of gang activity, violence and threats to their own lines. But in addition to that I, think relatives have hope that once they get here they will be able to stay. It is a major crisis," he said.
"It's a perfect storm of conditions in the sending countries," said Weishar.
She said the drug war is fueling the desperation.
"Particularly Honduras, there's been a tremendous collapse in the rule of law and in all these countries crushing poverty," said Dr. Weishar.
She said the United States is not the only destination for the children fleeing their countries south of Mexico.
"Panama, Costa Rica, even to Mexico, Nicaragua - it's up over 400 percent," said Weishar.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the children that are picked up are under constant supervision and well treated. It also says 47,000 unaccompanied children were taken into custody from October through May of this year and a draft border patrol memo estimates the number could reach 90,000 by the fall.
Gutierrez said a big part of the problem in the United States is the lack of immigration reform.
"This crisis that we have right now with these thousands of kids coming across the border, it highlights the need to expedite the process for comprehensive immigration reforms," stated Gutierrez.
Weishar believes the bloodshed and poverty in the children's homeland is driving the mass exodus.
"We have the look at the deep rooted reasons for kids fleeing. I mean, this is real acts of desperation," she said.
ICE issued the following statement:
"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is providing assistance to the situation associated with the influx of unaccompanied children across the southwest border by providing transportation from the border to Health and Human Services shelters. ICE works closely with other governmental and non-governmental agencies to fully support and coordinate these transportation efforts. ICE is committed to safe, secure and humane services to the unaccompanied children temporarily in our care."
Under federal law, children picked up at the border cannot be immediately returned to their country if they have come from places other than Mexico and Canada which have contiguous borders with the U.S.
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