The number of Central American children aged 12 and under crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally is growing faster than any other age group. That's the conclusion of a Pew Research Center analysis of previously unreleased government data.
Siblings, Elmer, Luis and Cristina were 12, 11 and 10 years old when smugglers threw them over the U.S.-Mexico border wall this past May.
"We had to climb a huge ladder. After we climbed the ladder, they lowered us on the other side," recalls Elmer, through a translator.
The Guatemalan children are the flesh and blood behind the Pew Research Center analysis which finds that the number of unaccompanied children under 12 years old crossing the border has doubled in the past 20 months.
Their mother Elena, an undocumented immigrant working in Gaithersburg, says she paid $12,000 to smuggle her children because she feared the violence and poverty in Guatemala was far more dangerous than the risks the children faced on their 3,000 mile trip by bus and on foot.
"You know you're placing your children at risk by bringing themselves on this trip. I placed them in God's hands," Elena says.
The U.S. government says that Elena's desperation is shared by parents with children in the region. Honduras is sending the most unaccompanied children of all ages, followed by Guatemala and El Salvador. These figures come days before the three Central American Presidents will meet with President Obama at the White House to see what they can do to keep mothers such as Elena from literally risking all they have on behalf of their children.