Thousands deported to Central America after fleeing gangs

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — Why did she do it? Why did she travel more than a thousand miles by bus and then ford the Rio Grande with a small band of desperate voyagers? Why did she endure the arid Texas landscape, with nothing but her common-law husband's black cap to shield her from the sun?

It was simple, the woman said.

She had already lost two children in the gang-ridden horror that is El Salvador. Her fear, she said, was that the killers "wanted to wipe out the whole family."

So the couple set out for the United States on May 13, hoping to reach Houston and her only surviving child, who had slipped across the U.S. border a year ago.

They did not make it. Barely an hour after they crossed into Texas, they were captured by the Border Patrol, separated and locked up. On Thursday, the mom, her wrists and ankles in chains, was flown with about 100 other would-be migrants back to El Salvador.

Thousands of others are in the same situation, having fled from ultraviolent gangs in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, only to be caught near the U.S. border and sent back under the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy.

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted in June that "illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be ... pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13."

Yet very few gang members try to get into the United States. In fiscal year 2017, the U.S. Border Patrol carried out 310,531 detentions of people who were in the U.S. illegally, but only 0.09 percent of them belonged to the gangs operating in Central America, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics.

Instead, it's often people fleeing gangs who are trying to get into the United States.

In 2000, U.S. border patrol agents caught 1.6 million immigrants on the southwest border. Of those immigrants, 98 percent were Mexican, and only about 29,000 came from other countries.

Contrast that with 2017, when nearly 163,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras were caught on the border – and roughly 128,000 Mexicans.

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