How bad is it in the countries these families are fleeing? This bad
Posted June 18, 2018 1:00 p.m. EDT
Updated July 12, 2018 1:01 p.m. EDT
(CNN) — The agony and desperation are written all over migrants' faces. But what you can't see is how bad their homelands really are.
For decades, US officials have vetted who should get asylum -- a protected status that allows people fleeing persecution to live legally in another country.
But gaining asylum just got a lot tougher. Under a new Trump administration policy, those claiming a fear of domestic violence or non-governmental gang violence will be immediately rejected.
And that's a huge blow to the many asylum seekers fleeing Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Snapshots of these countries reveal the nightmares they're trying to escape:
Gross national income, per capita: $2,150
Population living in poverty: 60.9%
Life in Honduras: As the second-poorest country in Central America, Honduras "suffers from extraordinarily unequal distribution of income" and rampant underemployment, the CIA World Factbook says.
Widespread gang violence fuels instability and suffering. Criminals have extorted Hondurans into paying an arbitrary "war tax" for their survival, and those who can't pay often are killed.
"There are no jobs, no justice, no laws in Honduras," said 32-year-old Karen Gallo, who sought asylum this year with a caravan of migrants.
Some of those migrants were transgender people who faced persecution in Honduras. Nikolle Contreras said she suffered "discrimination because of my sexuality, lack of work, discrimination within my own family for being gay and worse, for being a trans person."
Gross national income, per capita: $3,920
Population below poverty line: 38.2%
Life in El Salvador: "El Salvador is beset by one of the world's highest homicide rates and pervasive criminal gangs," the CIA World Factbook says.
One 38-year-old migrant said she understands not everyone would welcome her to the United States.
"But I don't have an option," she told CNN. "If I stay in El Salvador, I'm going to be killed."
In recent decades, poor economic conditions and natural disasters also have contributed to Salvadorans fleeing to the United States.
Gross national income, per capita: $3,790
Population below poverty line: 59.3%
Life in Guatemala: Almost half of Guatemalan children under age 5 are chronically malnourished -- "one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world," the CIA World Factbook says.
"Guatemalans have a history of emigrating legally and illegally to Mexico, the United States and Canada because of a lack of economic opportunity, political instability and natural disasters."
More than half of the country lives in poverty, and 23% lives in extreme poverty -- meaning people survive on less than $1.25 a day.