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Behind the global furor over America’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy are tens of thousands of adults and children — most of them from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — who have risked extortion and sexual violence along the journey, and now separation from their families upon arrival. So why take those risks to reach the U.S.?

Expand chart
Data: United States Border Patrol; Chart: Kerrie Vila /Axios

The big picture: This is not just a U.S. immigration crisis —it’s a Central American refugee crisis which started around 2013 and has continued to this day. In these countries, fear is often the primary motivator, rather than economic incentives.

By the numbers
  • Families: Nearly 200,000 parents and children have been apprehended crossing the Southern border from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in under three years, according to Customs and Border Protection data.
  • Unaccompanied minors: Beginning in 2013, the number of children apprehended at the border without a parent has spiked, with more than 200,000 coming from the three countries since that time. This year, the vast majority have come from Guatemala.
  • As these numbers have risen, there has been a dramatic decline in apprehensions of Mexicans, both among children and adults. In 2000, 98% of those apprehended at the southern border were Mexican. Last year, just 42% were.
  • For the first time last year, the U.S. received more asylum claims than any other country in the world, according to new UN data, with 43% coming from Central and North America. However, the U.S. only made decisions on one-fifth of those applications, leaving hundreds of thousands in limbo.
Behind the numbers
  • El Salvador has by far the highest murder rate in the world. Rates of violent death there are higher than in every war-torn country except Syria, according to a recent study.
  • There are more than 50,000 members of violent gangs across the three countries, per the International Crisis Group. Extortion is a fact of daily life in cities like San Salvador and Tegucigalpa, and carries with it the threat of violence. Turf wars between two Salvadoran gangs have displaced some 300,000 people, per the AP.

What it looks like: A Salvadoran woman waiting in Tijuana with her husband and three children, one of whom is just ten months old, told El Pais that the family fled after she was repeatedly threatened by a gang member who had become obsessed with her. She said the child separation policy “hasn’t changed my mind” about trying to cross into the U.S. and seek asylum.

“If my children can stay there, I have hope that I will be able to see them again. In my country, the only thing that awaits me is death.”

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
52 mins ago - Economy & Business

How the tech stock selloff is hurting average Americans

Expand chart
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Investors holding the ultra-popular Nasdaq 100 and S&P 500 index funds have been hard hit over the last two weeks as tech shares have been roiled by rising U.S. Treasury yields.

Why it matters: Even though the economy is growing and many U.S. stocks are performing well, most investors are seeing their wealth decline because major indexes no longer reflect the overall economy or even a broad swath of public companies — they reflect the performance of a few of the country's biggest companies.

1 hour ago - World

UN rights chief: At least 54 killed, 1,700 detained since Myanmar coup

A Feb. 7 protest in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo: Getty Images/Getty Images

Police and military officers in Myanmar have killed at least 54 people during anti-coup protests, while "arbitrarily" detaining over 1,700 people, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said Thursday.

Why it matters: Protesters have demonstrating across Myanmar for nearly a month, demanding the restoration of democracy after the country's military leaders overthrew its democratically elected government on Feb. 1.

3 hours ago - Health

The danger of a fourth wave

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Note: Anomalous Arkansas case data from Feb. 28 was not included in the calculated change; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The U.S. may be on the verge of another surge in coronavirus cases, despite weeks of good news.

The big picture: Nationwide, progress against the virus has stalled. And some states are ditching their most important public safety measures even as their outbreaks are getting worse.

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