Central American Immigration Crisis

Jose Guerrero Coronado, Columnist

In the last year, the global media has focused the majority of its coverage on the Middle East refugee crisis. Thousands of people have left countries like Iraq and Syria because of war. The media has covered almost every detail of the fighting in Syria and the journey migrants take from Syria to Germany and Sweden in hopes of obtaining asylum.

There is a similar, lesser known migrant crisis going on in Latin America. The crisis I am talking about is taking place in three specific Central American countries: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. These three countries are experiencing a crisis of violence at the hands of drug gangs known as Maras. These groups commit terrible crimes and are incredibly powerful. To maintain their leverage they recruit young kids, some of them as young as 12 years old. If these children refuse they are beaten up or killed. Most of the time, these kids have only two options: join the gangs or leave their cities or towns to move to the United States where they have relatives.

In this last year, journalist Sonia Nazario of “The New York Times,” wrote an article in which she mentions that the United States has paid Mexico millions of dollars to deport immigrants that travel across the Mexican territory. The claim is supported by numbers: Mexico has already deported more Central Americans in 2015 than the United States. So far solutions to help this new wave of refugees have focused on improving shelter and detention places, but no long-term solution has been presented.

“If the corpses of central American immigrants floated like they do on the Mediterranean sea, we would have corpses floating all over Mexico. Migrants here are invisible, they end up in ditches or as sexual slaves,” said Martha Sanchez Soler, an activist for the migrants that cross Mexico. This quote points out the major problem: information. Many people ignore the Central American crisis because it is virtually invisible–they do not know the victims and the media rarely mentions the problem despite the fact that this wave of immigration started in 2010.

Another issue is that there is no official war going on. Despite these countries’ long histories of problematic relations there has not been a war-catalyzing event. By major event I refer to a massacre or battle. This problem is invisible in part because the media has failed to report it. Last year this situation was barely mentioned on TV–it only appeared on national programming because detention centers in the United States were over capacity. In December of 2014, the United States launched a program to reunite Central American children with their parents. After almost a year, the United States accepted only six Central American children in the first week of November of 2015. You can blame the bureaucracy, but the media and citizens have failed to put pressure on the U.S. government. The fact that the United States and Europe accepted thousands of Syrian refugees in the last two months and only six Central American kids speaks for itself.

Proposed solutions for this problem are short-term and involve policing and the use of force. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, the United States has been giving money to the Mexican government to stop Central Americans from entering Mexico. The United States could have given that money to Central American governments to try to solve their gang problems, but apparently those governments are even less trustworthy than the Mexican government.

The question at hand is not how many refugees the United States, Mexico or Canada can take–it’s why are these people leaving their homelands? Violence needs to be reduced in those countries. Since this is not a war, families are not recognized as refugees. So far the organizations that have tried to help the migrants are few and have almost no power against the corrupt governments and powerful drug cartels that make profits from migrants crossing Mexico. More funds should be allocated to these organizations instead of funding corrupt cops. However, this is still a short-term solution. The only long term solution is to help make Central American countries and their cities safer, provide aid for their poor, fund educational opportunities, etc. These actions will help these countries grow and reduce migration numbers, but such a long-term project is expensive and would be useless until systematic corruption was eradicated.