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Gang violence, fears for children fuel rush to US

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FILE – In this June 18, 2014, file photo, detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection, processing facility in Brownsville,Texas. Many of the immigrants recently flooding the nation’s southern border say they’re fleeing violent gangs in Central America. These gangs were a byproduct of U.S. immigration and Cold War policies, specifically growing from the increase in deportations in the 1990s. With weak dysfunctional governments at home, U.S. street gang culture easily took hold and flourished in these countries. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, Pool, File)

FILE – In this June 18, 2014, file photo, detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection, processing facility in Brownsville,Texas. Many of the immigrants recently flooding the nation’s southern border say they’re fleeing violent gangs in Central America. These gangs were a byproduct of U.S. immigration and Cold War policies, specifically growing from the increase in deportations in the 1990s. With weak dysfunctional governments at home, U.S. street gang culture easily took hold and flourished in these countries. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, Pool, File)

FILE – In this June 25, 2014 file photo, a group of immigrants from Honduras and El Salvador who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally are stopped in Granjeno, Texas. Many of the immigrants recently flooding the nation’s southern border say they’re fleeing violent gangs in Central America. These gangs were a byproduct of U.S. immigration and Cold War policies, specifically growing from the increase in deportations in the 1990s. With weak dysfunctional governments at home, U.S. street gang culture easily took hold and flourished in these countries. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

FILE – In this July 12, 2014 file photo, migrants walk in between parked trains after getting off one, during their journey toward the U.S.-Mexico border in Ixtepec, southern Mexico. Tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors, the vast majority from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, have been apprehended at the U.S. border from last October to June, according to the Border Patrol. That’s more than double the same period last year. Many of the immigrants recently flooding the nation’s southern border say they’re fleeing violent gangs in Central America. These gangs were a byproduct of U.S. immigration and Cold War policies, specifically growing from the increase in deportations in the 1990s. With weak dysfunctional governments at home, U.S. street gang culture easily took hold and flourished in these countries. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

FILE – In this Saturday, July 12, 2014 file photo, immigrants run to jump on a train during their journey toward the U.S.-Mexico border, in Ixtepec, Mexico. Many of the immigrants recently flooding the nation’s southern border say they’re fleeing violent gangs in Central America. These gangs were a byproduct of U.S. immigration and Cold War policies, specifically growing from the increase in deportations in the 1990s. With weak dysfunctional governments at home, U.S. street gang culture easily took hold and flourished in these countries. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

FILE – In this July 12, 2014 file photo, migrants walk along the rail tracks after getting off a train during their journey toward the U.S.-Mexico border in Ixtepec, Mexico. Many of the immigrants recently flooding the nation’s southern border say they’re fleeing violent gangs in Central America. These gangs were a byproduct of U.S. immigration and Cold War policies, specifically growing from the increase in deportations in the 1990s. With weak dysfunctional governments at home, U.S. street gang culture easily took hold and flourished in these countries. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Many immigrants flooding across the southern border of the U.S. say they’re fleeing violent gangs in Central America.

Experts, however, say those gangs are actually a byproduct of U.S. policies in the 1990s that sent many immigrants back to Central America after they had been indoctrinated into gang culture in this country.

The violence they took with them easily took hold and flourished in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — countries with weak, dysfunctional governments.

A few things to know:

WHERE DO CENTRAL AMERICAN GANGS COME FROM?

One study estimated some 350,000 Salvadoran immigrants illegally came to Southern California from 1980 to 1985 while trying to escape civil war and corruption in their home country.

They arrived with few English skills and many settled in poor neighborhoods with strong Mexican- and African-American gangs.

To survive and avoid bullying, they formed gangs such as Mara Salvatruch or joined others such as the 18th Street gang. They committed serious crimes and were sent to prison, where they were further exposed to violent gang culture.

In the 1990s, the U.S. increased deportations of immigrants facing criminal charges, particularly gang members. As many as 1,500 Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran youths were sent back each month to Central America. They arrived with the notoriety of being a Los Angeles gangster.

“There’s this huge explosion in all three of these countries of the gangs and the number of gang members, partially because it’s the way of street kids getting status and reputation, and partially because it’s a way of surviving,” said Tom Ward, a USC associate professor who has studied the issue.

WHAT IS THE RELATION BETWEEN THE GANGS AND THE INFLUX OF IMMIGRANTS AT THE U.S BORDER?

Many people fleeing Central America say they are running from violence perpetrated by the gangs. But the migration is also an effort to reunify families.

At least 80 percent of youths stopped at the border have one parent or a close relative already in the United States, said Doris Meissner, former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and senior fellow for the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.

Family members already in the U.S. have saved enough money to pay a smuggler to bring their children across the border so boys won’t be forcibly recruited into gangs and daughters won’t be subjected to sexual violence.

WHY ARE WE SEEING THIS INFLUX OF IMMIGRANTS, ESPECIALLY CHILDREN, NOW?

Word of mouth

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