Special Report: US Foreign Policy Spurring Central American Migration
As images of children huddled in masses on immigrant detention center floors along the US-Mexico border make headlines worldwide, the US government is responding with more of the same failed policies that have generated the security crisis and economic and social devastation in Central America that spurs migration in the first place.
Over 52,000 children have been apprehended at the US border since October 2013, most of them from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and many of them unaccompanied. At least 60,000 minors are expected to cross into the country this year. With US immigrant detention centers overwhelmed, these children are now being housed at military bases. In a recent meeting with US Vice President Joe Biden in Guatemala, President Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador was adamant that the rights of these children, whose principal motive is to reunite with a parent who had previously migrated to the US, be respected. Following a visit to detention centers in Arizona by Liduvina Margarín, the Vice Minister for Salvadorans Abroad, the Salvadoran government announced plans to reinforce its consulates along the US-Mexican border to offer support and services for migrants, with family reunification the primary goal.
Central Americans make up a significant portion of migrants detained in the US; Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorans comprised nearly a third of all US deportations last year, among them 21,602 Salvadorans. And it is no coincidence. In fact, US policy has consistently proven a principal factor in the root causes that drive Central Americans to migrate.
For decades, the US has supported brutal military dictatorships in the region, suppressed popular democratic liberation movements, imposed devastating free trade and privatization initiatives and provided arms and demand for the drug trade. Today, as political and narcoviolence in Honduras continues to surge, the US is providing key support for the violent and corrupt regime of President Juan Orlando Hernández. Meanwhile, El Salvador’s new leftist government is working to implement innovative social and economic programs to address the root causes of migration by stimulating local economies and providing basic services for the population. In response, however, the US is pushing economic policies that would undermine those gains, preferring to use development aid to promote the interests of transnational corporations.
The shocking images of the conditions endured by minor detainees that prompted the current media frenzy were leaked by right-wing activists. These actors hope to pressure the Obama administration to implement harsher immigration enforcement mechanisms that have proven ineffective at curbing the flow of migration and worsened the human rights crisis for migrants. The White House has taken the bait, announcing plans for increased enforcement along the US border, as well as additional initiatives that are all-too familiar, including increased military and security aid and promotion of neoliberal economic measures in Central America. Until US policy stops supporting violent and corrupt regimes and abandons its interventions for transnational corporate interests in Central America, children will continue to make the dangerous journey to the United States.