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Central America's spiraling violence has a Los Angeles connection.

People who have been in the United States for decades told me that WhatsApp has eased the feeling of isolation and longing that is inherent to being an immigrant. She now lives in Memphis and has taught at, among other places, the University of Memphis.

There were often letters, sometimes containing pictures of newborns and weddings. Faxing became a thing in the s, and later she found email, Skype and Facebook. Reef began to feel a qualitative change in her connection with her far-flung family. A relative who lives in Australia — the son of Ms. With WhatsApp, Ms. Reef said, she gets to see a stream of baby pictures. The app is purposefully unflashy, and it does just a few things — texts, voice calls and video calls.

As a result, it is supremely easy to use even for people who are neophytes to digital technology. This is one reason immigrants find it so powerful; it has given them access to a wider set of relatives who might have shunned the social networks that came before. Adoption of WhatsApp often follows a curious pattern — older relatives often suggest it to younger ones, rather than the other way around. Reef said. The app is encrypted, making it safe from government snoops.

The company has also long been adamant about its opposition to advertising and some of the intrusions on privacy, though that stance has softened since the Facebook purchase.

Still, for Syrian refugees, WhatsApp is seen as the most secure communication tool that everyone uses, according to Majd Taby, a Syrian immigrant to the United States who spent a few weeks this year documenting the lives of refugees for a photo book he is making. Taby argued that without WhatsApp, the migrant flows out of Syria might have been much smaller.

In the earliest days of the Syrian civil war, some of the first refugees leaving Syria faced a receptive welcome in European countries. Taby said.

Once there, they plan to meet up with Wendy's father, who is currently working in the northern state of Sonora, and then try to illegally cross together into the United States. The women are trying to avoid riding the freight trains, known as "la bestia," or the beast, as thousands of other Central Americans do on their perilous journey north through Mexico. Some of the immigrants are robbed, assaulted or, especially in the case of women, raped by gangs who control the train tops. Honduran immigrant Jorge Vargas Aguilar, 18, spends a day at the Hermanos en el Camino immigrant shelter in Ixtepec, on August 5, He said he planned to ride a freight train north later that night to continue his journey to the U.

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Honduran transgender immigrant Daniela, 20, at the Hermanos en el Camino immigrant shelter in Ixtepec, on August 5, She has been staying at the shelter for more than a month while Mexican immigration authorities process documents to allow her to travel to the U. Honduran immigrant Melvin, 16, in the Hermanos en el Camino immigrant shelter in Ixtepec, on August 5, Honduran immigrant Ruben, 43, spends a day at the Hermanos en el Camino immigrant shelter on August 5, in Ixtepec, Mexico.

He had previously worked in Orlando, Florida as a construction worker. He said that when he had saved enough money five years ago, he returned voluntarily to Honduras and was assaulted and robbed of all his savings, also suffering a serious injury to his right eye. Now, again journeying to the U.

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S, he said he planned to ride a freight train north to the border and eventually return to Orlando. The shelter, founded by Solalinde in , houses and feeds immigrants, mostly from Central America, during a stop on their train route through Mexico towards the U. Central American immigrants check a map of Mexico before boarding a freight train headed north on August 3, from Arriaga, Mexico.

Immigrants arrive for a rest stop after a 15 hour ride atop a freight train headed north in Ixtepec, Mexico, on August 4, Central American immigrants atop a freight train stop briefly in Ixtepec, on August 6, Central American immigrants arrive on top of a freight train to the Hermanos en el Camino immigrant shelter in Ixtepec, on August 6, The sign outside reads "Welcome Migrants. Central American immigrants ride north on top of a freight train near Juchitlan, Mexico, on August 6, Immigrants duck beneath tree branches while riding on top of a freight train near Juchitlan, on August 6, Immigrants fall asleep atop a freight train near Juchitlan, on August 6, The international port of entry stretches from the U.

The Rio Grande Valley area is an important international commercial zone but has also become the busiest sector for illegal immigration and a key drug smuggling route on the entire U. A suspected drug smuggling scout paddles his raft back across the Rio Grande into Mexico from the U.

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An anthropology student marks the spot where human bones of a suspected undocumented immigrant were found by the U. In Brooks County alone, at least immigrants perished in , most of dehydration while making the long crossing from Mexico. Teams from Baylor University and the University of Indianapolis are exhuming the bodies of more than 50 immigrants who died, mostly from heat exhaustion, while crossing illegally from Mexico into the United States.

'Tis: Frank McCourt’s American Journey from Immigrant to Brilliant Teacher & Raconteur (1999)

The bodies will be examined and cross checked with DNA sent from Mexico and Central American countries, with the goal of reuniting the remains with families. Border Patrol agent detains undocumented immigrants who had crossed from Mexico into the United States on April 11, in Mission, Texas. In the last month the Border Patrol's Rio Grande Valley sector has seen a spike in the number of immigrants crossing the river from Mexico into Texas. With more apprehensions, they have struggled to deal with overcrowding while undocumented immigrants are processed for deportation.

Border Patrol agent handcuffs an undocumented immigrant near the U. A group of 16 immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador said they crossed the Rio Grande River from Mexico into Texas during the morning hours before they were caught. Ramirez was arrested in Phoenix in November for drug possession. He said he had been living with his family in Phoenix and previously Los Angeles for a total of 34 years. As an undocumented immigrant with a criminal record, he may likely be deported to Mexico after his serving his sentence. President Obama's administration deported a record 1.

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In , 55 percent of deportees had criminal convictions for drug offenses or driving under the influence, according to U. An immigrant inmate exercises while another sits on his bunk at the Maricopa County Tent City jail on March 11, in Phoenix, Arizona. The striped uniforms and pink undergarments are standard issue at the facility, despite an ongoing court challenge. The tent jail, run by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, houses undocumented immigrants who are serving up to one year after being convicted of crime in the county.

Although many of immigrants have lived in the U. S for years, often with families, most will be deported to Mexico after serving their sentences.