In El Salvador, poverty and gangs drive migration

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Although most of the 7,000 migrants in the caravan wending its way through far-southern Mexico are Hondurans, some Salvadorans have also joined. There is even a Facebook page and a WhatsApp chat encouraging Salvadorans to form a caravan of their own, though it is not yet known whether one will materialize.

It's a small country both geographically and by population, home to 6.5 million inhabitants. The International Organization for Migration estimates that another 1.35 million Salvadorans live in the United States. El Salvador's government puts the figure at as many as 2.5 million — but either way, Salvadorans make up the biggest community of Central Americans living in the United States.

El Salvador is the only country in the so-called Northern Triangle —which also includes Guatemala and Honduras —that experienced a reduction in migration in 2017, something that the government has noted in recent days in response to vows by U.S. President Donald Trump to cut U.S. aid to the region.

Even so, Salvadorans continue to leave their country. Their tales of hardship back home are not dissimilar from those of their Honduran neighbors. Here's a look at what is driving those who migrate.

29 PHOTOS
Migrants traveling in mass caravan break fence at Mexico border
See Gallery
Migrants traveling in mass caravan break fence at Mexico border
A police officer helps a Honduran migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., as she storms a border checkpoint to cross into Mexico, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Honduran migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., ties a backpack from the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
A Honduran migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., climbs down from the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
A Honduran migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., hits the shield of a federal policeman after storming the Guatemalan checkpoint to enter Mexico, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., jump and climb down from the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala to avoid the border checkpoint as others look while queueing to enter Mexico, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A police officer helps a Honduran migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., as she storms a border checkpoint to cross into Mexico, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A federal policeman gestures as Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., are being pushed by other migrants after storming the Guatemalan checkpoint to enter Mexico, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
A Honduran migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., hits the shield of a federal policeman after storming the Guatemalan checkpoint to enter Mexico, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
A Honduran migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., protects her child as a federal police reacts after migrants stormed the Guatemalan checkpoint to enter Mexico, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., jump and climb down from the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala to avoid the border checkpoint as others look while queueing to enter Mexico, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., are pushed by other migrants after storming the Guatemalan checkpoint to enter Mexico, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
A Honduran migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., jumps from the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
A Honduran migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., climbs down from the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala with the help of fellow immigrants to avoid the border checkpoint in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., storm a border checkpoint, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
A Honduran migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., cries after stormed a border checkpoint in Guatemala, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., topple a fence after storming the Guatemala border in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
A Honduran migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., jumps over a fence in the checkpoint between Guatemala and Mexico in Tecun Uman, Guatemala October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., storm a border checkpoint in Guatemala, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH A Honduran migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., bleeds after he storms a border checkpoint in Guatemala, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., storm a border checkpoint in Guatemala, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
A police officer helps a Honduran migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., as she storms a border checkpoint in Guatemala, in Ciudad Hidalgo, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., fall after storming a border checkpoint in Guatemala, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., storm a border checkpoint in Guatemala, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., storm a border checkpoint, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., climb a fence in an effort to enter Mexico after storming a border checkpoint in Guatemala, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
A Honduran migrant child, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., cries next to a fence in the checkpoint between Guatemala and Mexico in Tecun Uman, Guatemala October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., yell as they storm a border checkpoint, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., react after storming the Guatemala border, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
A Honduran migrant, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., yells as he storms a border checkpoint, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

___

GANGS AND VIOLENCE

El Salvador's homicide rate was 60 per 100,000 inhabitants last year, down from a grisly record of 102 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015 but still among the highest in the world. The two main street gangs, 18th Street and MS-13, are estimated to number around 70,000 and actively try to recruit new members.

The gangs trace their origins to street life in cities such as Los Angeles, where many Salvadorans sought refuge during their country's 1980-1992 civil war. Salvadorans arrested for crimes in the U.S. were deported back home, bringing gang activity with them. The U.S. deported 1,241 Salvadorans for apparent gang activity in 2017, and 524 alleged gang members the previous year. Crime experts say today's gangs have ties to international drug trafficking networks.

Trump frequently seizes on MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, as a reason to tighten immigration controls.

A quarter of young Salvadorans who flee do so because they are threatened with or fear violence. Young women are pressured to be "girlfriends" of gang members and face rape or murder if they refuse, while young men are pressured to join the gangs or risk death if they don't. Two out of three Salvadorans never attend high school.

Young women are particularly vulnerable. Murders of young women peaked at 574 in 2015. Salvadoran law forbids termination of pregnancies, even in the case of rape, and establishes long prison sentences for abortion.

___

POVERTY

The International Organization for Migration says most Salvadorans migrate for economic reasons. Per capita income is $324 a month and nearly one in three Salvadorans lives in poverty, according to the World Bank, defined as less than $5.50 a day.

Many rely on remittances from family members abroad. Salvadorans in the United States sent $5 billion back home last year, amounting to nearly 16 percent of gross domestic product.

It's tough to make a go as a small business owner in the country and create jobs for others. The gangs extort local businesses with impunity, and corruption is rampant. President Salvador Sanchez Ceren's three predecessors were all prosecuted for alleged graft.

"Migration problems are structural problems of the country," says Cesar Rios, director of the Salvadoran Migrant Institute. "If steady income is not guaranteed here — work and security — then people will continue to leave."

25 PHOTOS
El Salvador gang members find new lease on life
See Gallery
El Salvador gang members find new lease on life
Julio Marroquin, (L), member of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, participates in a religious service at the Eben-Ezer christian church in the Dina neighbourhood of San Salvador, El Salvador, March 31, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Roberto Renderos, member of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, prepares dough at their bakery in the Dina neighbourhood in San Salvador, El Salvador, June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Raul Valladares of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, shows the secuels of the tattoo removal treatment at the Eben Ezer church in the Dina neighbourhood in San Salvador, El Salvador, August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Members of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, attend the wake of a fellow member, in Colon, El Salvador, June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
A member of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, dances to christian songs during a storm at the Eben Ezer church in the Dina neighbourhood in San Salvador, El Salvador, July 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Roberto Renderos, member of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, gets ready for a graduation ceremony at the Eben Ezer church in the Dina neighbourhood in San Salvador, El Salvador, June 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Raul Valladares and Carlos Montano, members of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, sell bread in the Monserrat neighbourhood in San Salvador, El Salvador, June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Julio Marroquin, member of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, participates in a religious service at the Eben-Ezer christian church at the Dina neighbourhood in San Salvador, El Salvador, March 31, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Roberto Renderos, member of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, gets a diploma for Human Rights and Peace Culture course during a graduation at the Eben Ezer church in the Dina neighbourhood in San Salvador, El Salvador, June 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Raul Valladares of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, has laser treatment during a tattoo removal session in San Salvador, El Salvador, October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Raul Valladares of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, watches TV with his son at his home in the Dina neighbourhood of San Salvador, El Salvador, September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Raul Valladares of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, hangs clothes outside his home in the Dina neighbourhood in San Salvador, El Salvador, August 24, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Raul Valladares of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, tries to fix a toy gun at his home in the Dina neighbourhood in San Salvador, El Salvador, August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Julio Marroquin, member of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, attends the wake of a fellow member in Colon, El Salvador, June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Raul Valladares of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, talks with his son at his home in the Dina neighbourhood in San Salvador, El Salvador, September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Raul Valladares, member of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, works on the construction of the store front of their bakery at the Eben Ezer church in the Dina neighbourhood in San Salvador, El Salvador, July 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Members of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, have lunch before a graduation at the Eben Ezer church in the Dina neighbourhood in San Salvador, El Salvador, June 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Roberto Renderos, member of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, washes vegetables which will be used on pizzas, at their bakery in the Dina neighbourhood in San Salvador, El Salvador, June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Roberto Renderos and Joseph Ramirez, members of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, sell bread in the Dina neighborhood in San Salvador, El Salvador, June 27, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Roberto Renderos (L) and Joseph Ramirez of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, sell bread at the Dina in San Salvador, El Salvador, June 27, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Members of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry prepare dough as they learn how to make bread at the Dina neighbourhood in San Salvador, El Salvador, June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Roberto Renderos, member of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, prepares dough at their bakery in the Dina neighbourhood of San Salvador, El Salvador, June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
A member of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) rests at the bakery at the Dina neighbourhood in San Salvador, El Salvador, September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Wilfredo Gomez, member of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, does the accounts for the bakery project at the Eben Ezer church in the Dina neighbourhood of San Salvador, El Salvador, July 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Members of the "Huellas de Esperanza" (Traces of Hope) ministry, work in their bakery at the Eben Ezer church in the Dina neighbourhood of San Salvador, El Salvador, June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.