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Honduras's Murder Rate Is Six Times Worse Than Chicago's. How Can We Send Children Back to That?

Getty Images/Orlando Sierra

Over July 4th weekend in Chicago, 82 people were shot in a span of 84 hours, 14 of them fatally. Mayor Rahm Emanuel called it "simply unacceptable." The police commissioner described it as "Groundhog Day." And an op-ed columnist in the Tribune wrote, "Although the July Fourth holiday was particularly bloody, what's even more disturbing is how ordinary the killing and maiming has become."

But even Chicago's horrific weekend doesn't compare to the violence in the Central American countries that child migrants are now fleeing, contributing to the humanitarian crisis along the United States's southern border.

In 2013, there were “just” 415 murders in Chicago, the fewest in 48 years. That was an 18 percent improvement, but Chicago remained the city with the most murders in the United States (albeit outside the top ten in murders per capita). Last year in Honduras, more than 7,000 people were murdered, an average of 19 a day. The country has nearly three times as many residents as Chicago, but that doesn't account for the difference: In 2013, Chicago had 15 murders per 100,000 residents, versus 90 in Honduras. In the country's second-largest city, San Pedro Sula, the murder rate is 173 per 100,000 residents—earning the city the title of the world's murder capital.

murder rates

In a story Thursday on gang life in Honduras, the New York Times reported, “Children are killed for refusing to join gangs, over vendettas against their parents, or because they are caught up in gang disputes. Many activists here suggest they are also murdered by police officers willing to clean up the streets by any means possible.” In 2013, the paper reported, 1,013 people under the age of 23 were murdered.

Honduras is just one of three countries from which unaccompanied minors are fleeing en masse to the United States. In the other two, El Salvador and Guatemala, the conditions are safer—but only relative to Honduras. In 2012, El Salvador had nearly 2,600 murders, for a murder rate of 41 per 100,000 people. The Times also reported that murders of children aged 17 and under are up 77 percent so far this year. In Guatemala, the murder rate was 40 per 100,000 people in 2012.

On Monday, Emanuel called for more than just a greater police presence. “We also have to give our young people alternatives to the street, and as a community we need to demand more of ourselves and our neighbors,” he said. The same could apply to our regional neighbors. Certainly, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala must do more themselves to reduce the bloodshed. But with thousands of their young citizens now running to us for help, it's worth considering whether our default solution—deportation—stands any chance of solving the larger problem. As in Chicago, perhaps it's time to consider a different approach.