Thousands of immigrants pass through the Southern border. Why are they fleeing their home countries?
Christal Hayes, USA Today June 25, 2018
Government provided video shows more than 1,100 people inside metal cages in a warehouse that’s divided into separate wings for unaccompanied children, adults on their own, and mothers and fathers with children. USA TODAY
Every day thousands of migrants pass through the U.S. Southern border.
(Photo John Moore, Getty Images)
Some travel as far as 1,000 miles, walking through deserts and carrying water jugs and the small possessions they need to start a new life. It is a perilous journey that isn’t for the faint of heart: More than 400 died trying to make it to the U.S. last year, according to the United Nations’ migration agency.
So why are they risking their lives and the possibility of being separated from family?
While Mexico is the country most-often talked about in the immigration debate, many of those crossing the border are traveling from Central American countries synonymous with corruption, crime and poverty. These root problems have been a driving force for years for immigrants to make the journey to the U.S.
President Donald Trump enacted a “zero-tolerance” policy when it came to those trying to cross the border illegally, hoping to dissuade migrants. He’s also talked about ending aid to already impoverished countries where these migrants are traveling from to reduce the numbers of travelers.
But that hasn’t stopped immigrants. While totals on borders crossings are down, the number of families coming through the Southwest border jumped six-fold in May to 9,485 compared with the same month in 2017. There are now an estimated 11 undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
Since October, more than 58,000 have arrived, the bulk from Guatemala, followed by Honduras and El Salvador.
While Republicans and Democrats debate what to do with those seeking a new life in America and future immigration policies, those making the trek have several key motivations.
It doesn’t take much to understand why those living in the so-called Northern Triangle countries — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — would want to leave.
El Salvador was the murder capital of the world with a staggering rate of 104 people per 100,000 in 2015. The country still has a higher homicide rate than all countries suffering armed conflict except for Syria, according to the most recent global study by the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey.
Similarly, residents of Honduras live in fear because of extortion and criminals demanding a “war tax,” which, if not paid, could mean death.
“This isn’t about immigrants chasing the American dream anymore,” Sofia Martinez, a Guatemala-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, told the Associated Press. “It’s about escaping a death sentence.”
Those fleeing Mexico also are hoping to get away from the violence.
Georgina Ayala Mendoza, her husband and their three kids fled Michoacán, a state along the west coast of Mexico, on May 3. One day earlier, gunmen — Ayala believes they were members of a cartel — entered her mother-in-law’s home and killed two of her husband’s brothers, she said.
She worried the cartel would try to recruit her husband to work with them — or face the same fate as his brothers.
In March, the U.S. State Department listed Michoacán as one of five Mexican states to which U.S. citizens should not travel. Violence in the country has been on the rise, and last year more homicides were recorded than in any year since the government started tracking them, according to the Los Angeles Times.
More than half of all residents in Guatemala and Honduras are living in poverty, according to CNN, which cited data from the World Bank Group.
Honduras is considered the second-poorest country in Central America where 60 percent of its population is in poverty. The conditions are echoed in Guatemala, where even though it has the largest economy out of other Central American countries, poverty rates have also nearly hit 60 percent.
Border Patrol detains immigrant families crossing US-Mexico border
Border Patrol agents take a group of migrant families to a safer place to be transported after intercepting them near McAllen, Texas, on June 19, 2018. More than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents at the border as a result of the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy, creating a deepening crisis for the government on how to care for the children. Courtney Sacco, Caller-Times via USA TODAY NETWORK
Border Patrol detains immigrant families crossing US-Mexico border
The president’s crackdown on illegal migrants could end up worsening the security and economic situation in Central America, Martinez said, leading even more people to flee in the future.
Earlier this year, Trump ended temporary protected status for 57,000 Hondurans and 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants, some of whom have been living in the U.S. for decades. If deported, they’ll return to countries ill-equipped to absorb them and generating too few jobs to provide opportunities to work.
Gangs and drug cartels
Lawlessness rules many of these countries where immigrants flee, and drug cartels, gangs and bribes are part of everyday life that runs similar to war zones in some areas.
The groups enforce informal curfews, demand taxes and force recruitment on young people.
Last year, 35 bus drivers, passengers and fare collectors were killed while riding buses into gang-controlled neighborhoods, while those that were spared a bullet were extorted to the tune of $19 million, according to the Salvadoran public transport owners’ association.
The number of people displaced in the nation of 6.5 million by turf battles between El Savador’s two biggest gangs, MS-13 and Barrio 18, skyrocketed last year to 296,000, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.
In Mexico, the government has been fighting drug cartels for years, which when combined with the battle between cartels over territory has left behind a trail of destruction and blood. Homicide rates have broken records recently, which many believe is tied to the arrest and extradition of former drug boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
His arrest caused an instability in Mexico’s drug trade and allowed other groups to move in, thus causing a behind-the-scenes battle for territory and the killings of both criminals and innocents throughout the country.
Immigrant families in the spotlight
An immigrant child looks out the window of a bus as protesters try to block a bus carrying migrant children out of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Detention Center on June 23, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. Dozens of protesters blocked the bus from leaving the center resulting in scuffles with police and Border Patrol agents before the bus retreated back to the center. Spencer Platt, Getty Images