‘Have you ever experienced desperation?’

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As the skyrocketing number of migrant children fleeing Central America for the U.S. attracted substantial news coverage in the summer, American government officials offered a plausible explanation for the illegal migration.

OPINION

They attributed it to widespread rumors in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador of unaccompanied minors and parents with young children gaining legal entry to the U.S.

If only it were that simple.

Yes, misinformation played a role but it was small compared with a more dire reality: Pervasive violent crime engulfing those regions leaves children desperate for a way out.

That was the view of experts at a Loyola University symposium Thursday on the child migrant crisis. They want protections for migrant children who make it to the U.S., including access to federally funded lawyers.

Some migrant children have one or both parents already living in the U.S., but a survey by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees found a link to crime, showing 58 percent were displaced and in need of international protection.

“Have you ever experienced desperation?” asked Rev. Peter Neeley of the Kino Border Initiative in Arizona and Mexico. “It’s an emotion we don’t talk about a lot in the United States. But if you’re ever desperate, it shuts off something in the brain: logical thinking.”

Neeley said migrants from Honduras have told him that returning to that country would be a death sentence.

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