Deported minors in Honduras
Suyapa Morales, 13, whose real identity remains hidden by petition, speaks during an interview in Comayagua. (Prometeo Lucero)

As wars between rival gangs continue to wreak havoc on Central America, more child and teen migrants are heading to the U.S. without their parents. According to a study released in 2014 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 58 percent of Central American child migrants who arrived after October 2011 fled because of violence. With the growing number of migrants, the Obama administration is ramping up deportation efforts but the migrants face a life or death choice upon returning home: join a gang or die.

Some teens have stopped going out at night to avoid gangs; others refuse to walk in the streets, even with the presence of military police.

“These kids are fleeing countries of enormous violence,” says Eliza Klein, a former immigration judge in Chicago who quit her job in part because she no longer wanted to send child migrants back to Central America. “They are sometimes not safe sitting inside their own homes.”

More than 40,000 child migrants arrived in the U.S. from last October through June 2016, according to Customs and Border Protection.

Reporter Laura Castellanos and photographer Prometeo Lucero traveled to San Pedro Sula in Honduras for Newsweek Espanol to report on the plight of children and teens deported from the United States and facing gang violence back home. Their story in Spanish can be found here: De Regreso a la Casa del Diablo.

The project was a collaboration between Newsweek and the Investigative Reporting Program at the Graduate School of Journalism of the University of California, Berkeley. Steve Fisher’s story for Newsweek can be found here: Join a Gang or Die.


-> Newsweek: Photos: Deported migrants face fear and gang violence in Honduras 


El Salvador is contending with an epidemic of gang violence. The small but densely populated Central American nation registered more homicides in 2015 than in any year during its protracted civil war, and young people are particularly vulnerable. Violent crime perpetrated by the “maras”, as the gangs are known, has claimed the lives of 7,500 young Salvadorans since mid-2014.

Tens of thousands of Salvadorans, among them large numbers of unaccompanied minors, feel they have no choice but to flee the country. Most try to reach the United States and apply for asylum, but many only get as far as Mexico, where they are intercepted by authorities. In the first five months of 2016, nearly 20,000 Salvadorans were deported from Mexico, back to the violence they were trying to escape.

This audio slideshow by Salvadoran photographer Juan Carlos features the voices of young returnees talking about why they tried to flee.

See more of Juan Carlos work via

Photo/Video: Juan Carlos; Editing: Juan Carlos & Prometeo Lucero; Multimedia Producer: Prometeo Lucero for IRIN News