A feeling of hopelessness and insecurity in Central America has fueled the exodus of 43,000 unaccompanied Central American children and teenagers to the US border this year, a ten-fold increase since 2009. The origin of the crisis lies in the growing menace of the violent narco-trafficking underworld in three countries: Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Paradoxically, many of the roots of the crisis lie in the very country to which the children are fleeing—our own society's insatiable demand for narcotics, and the network of gangs originating in Los Angeles which have extended their talons deep into Central America.

Our non-profit organization, Mayan Partners, has witnessed the consequences of this hopelessness and insecurity first-hand. During our most recent trip to Guatemala this summer, we sensed a growing desire among those with whom we work to leave their home country and seek refuge in ours.

Many Christians want to know how we can be part of a solution to this crisis, how we can genuinely bring grace and peace to the situation, and not just feel better for our efforts. But first we must understand the origins of the crisis.

The Cancer of Organized Crime

There are seven countries in Central America. Of these, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador can be characterized as especially “weak states,” countries in which there is a historical pattern of government corruption, lawlessness, and an ineffectual presence in rural areas. Weak states are fertile soil for organized crime, and organized crime has spread like a metastasizing cancer cells within all three of these countries.

Unlike previous surges in illegal immigration on our southern border, the primary force that drives people is ...

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