Fear of gangs, rampant violence send Central American kids north

President Barack Obama was meeting Wednesday evening with congressional leaders on the surge of illegal immigrant children on the southern border.

On Wednesday a Pew Center poll found 53 percent of Americans support accelerating the legal deportation process while 38 percent want to stay with the current policy. There are nearly 9,000 illegal immigrant children in U.S. custody waiting for a hearing on whether they can stay.

Those children were part of a surge of 57,000 unaccompanied minors who have come from Central America since last October.

Why are so many children headed north? CBS News went to El Salvador to find out.

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Raul, 16, says he gets threats every day from Salvadoran gangs.
CBS News

"Here, if you don't do certain things, your life is going to end anyway and it's better to try than just stay and die," said 16-year-old Raul.

Raul said he gets daily threats from the gangs that rule the streets across most of the country.

"It's really horrible, because you feel like your life is in danger. You feel like you don't have freedom to walk down the streets. And in my neighborhood, a couple of days ago they already killed two or three guys that are my age because they didn't want to join them," Raul said.

"You stop being the kid you were," he said.

Raul once knew a better life. His father, who was living in the U.S. on a temporary visa, brought him and his family to St. Paul, Minnesota, illegally. When the visa ran out in 2012, the family was deported back to El Salvador.

Raul's father opened a small shop with the money he brought back from the United States. That made him a target for extortion by gangs.

He feared for his family and arranged for Raul to make a run for the U.S.

Raul's father knew that it would be dangerous for the boy to travel all the way from El Salvador and to try to enter the U.S. illegally, but he still wanted his son to go.

"Because he knew that if I make it, it's going to be a thousand times better for me than to stay here," Raul said. "You don't feel safe here. You don't feel safe at all."

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Raul poses with his father, who was killed two weeks after Raul returned from a failed attempt to get to the United States.
CBS News

Raul became one of the thousands of minors to flee El Salvador in the last nine months. This time, he only got as far as Mexico.

"I started to cry because, you know, my dream was to get to the U.S.," he said.

Two weeks after his return, the gang threats against his family worsened.

"And suddenly, we just found my dad dead," Raul said.

He found his father shot and left in a field, like so many others.

"I cry a lot at night because I remember him. I wanted to take care of him when he was old and spend good times with him and everything. And that's not possible, and it really hurts," Raul said.

Every day, Raul lives with the fear that what happened to his father might happen to him.

"I wake up every morning and hope that it's not going to be my last day," he said.

Raul said he is considering once again trying to reach the United States, but that's complicated by the fact that at 16, he is now the man of the house and must support his mother and sister.

  • Manuel Bojorquez

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