The air was heavier than usual on the night Juan Carlos Elias, 18, kissed his mother goodbye. The list of belongings he packed the day before was minimal; he needed to be light on his feet if he was caught crossing the Mexican border alone.
At 16, when Elias began seeing his father struggle as a fisherman because of rising sea-level, he felt a nudge inside – a warning that he was meant for something bigger. So, he left for California where he now works as an electrician and makes $14 per hour.
“I’m probably too young to have made the decision to migrate on my own,” Elias said. “But once you’re older, it becomes more difficult to take off and leave.”
Elias is part of a growing number of Salvadorans migrating to the U.S. In 2016, 17,500 unaccompanied Salvadoran minors were apprehended at the border. Sixty-four percent of those deported back to El Salvador were from the country’s rural areas.
Along with extreme poverty and gang violence, climate change is creating a new wave of young Salvadoran migrants searching for safer and more prosperous lives away from home.