Crisis in the Hemisphere Is Driving Migration

Wall of crosses Nogales McIntosh

White crosses with the names of those who have died crossing the US border adorn the Mexican side of the wall in Heroica Nogales, Mexico. Photo by Jonathan McIntosh, published under Creative Commons license

Customs and Border Protection has announced their May statistics, which show an increase in border crossings, particularly by families and children. Rather than a U.S. immigration crisis, the continuing flow of immigrants evidences humanitarian and economic crises in the hemisphere, particularly in Central America and Venezuela. The humanitarian crisis in Central America includes rape and domestic violence that is supported or ignored by government and law enforcement; gang violence in which police and corrupt officials are complicit; and political violence directed at indigenous, human rights and environmental advocates.

In a report from Honduras, women describe their plight in a misogynistic society:

“Both local women and advocates here described rape and the threat of rape as methods of terrorizing neighborhoods and controlling women in their own homes. One in 10 Honduran women says her partner abused her physically or sexually at least once in the previous year. (No comparable statistics are available for the United States, but in Canada, the proportion is 1 in 100.) Still, these statistics can be unreliable because family violence and sexual assault often go unreported, and it’s not hard to see why: In 2016, of the more than 400 homicide cases with female victims in Honduras, only 15 were even investigated, resulting in just two convictions….

“”Vanessa Siliezar, a women’s rights lawyer based in the coastal city of La Ceiba, put it starkly: “If they’re killing you here, it’s better to go die in the desert.” 

In Guatemala, where indigenous people still suffer discrimination and carry the memories and scars of attempted genocide during the long civil war. Added to that, the current environmental/agricultural crisis drives families north to seek work and food. Mateo Gomez Tadeu died in the United States, after coming here without documents in a desperate attempt to feed his family. That left his family penniless again, and two sons, ages 7 and 14, died of malnutrition-related illnesses.

“If any family understands the risks of traveling to the United States, it’s this one. Yet Juan, now 11, is talking about trying to make his own way north. And Jorge Jorge, while terrified at the prospect of losing him, approves.

“I say, ‘Go,’” she said bleakly. “‘There’s nothing here, so go.’”…

“Food doesn’t grow here anymore,” Jorge Jorge said. “That’s why I would send my son north.”…

“The weather has changed, clearly,” said Flori Micaela Jorge Santizo, a 19-year-old woman whose husband has abandoned the fields to find work in Mexico. She noted that drought and unprecedented winds have destroyed successive corn crops, leaving the family destitute, adding, “And because I had no money, my children died.” …

“As they see their own crops wither, families watch luckier households build new homes or buy motorcycles because of money sent back by a relative working in the U.S. Some of these new homes have U.S. flags painted on them.

“Guatemalans understand the peril — in Jorge Jorge’s village, six people have died recently while traveling to the U.S. But the risk is preferable to remaining in a desiccating land that seems without a future.”

With continuing economic and governmental instability, thousands of Venezuelans have sought asylum in the United States in the past year.

“Venezuela has overtaken China to become the No. 1 country of origin for those claiming asylum in the U.S. upon arrival or shortly after, with nearly 30,000 Venezuelans applying for asylum with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in 2018. Nearly one-third of claims filed with the agency come from Venezuelans, the most of any country by far, according to the latest data.

“That has created a dilemma for the Trump administration in which its foreign policy, which considers Maduro’s government an oppressive dictatorship, is colliding with its immigration policy, which has sought aggressively to hold down the number of people admitted to the country through asylum….

“The administration has resisted a bipartisan push — including from Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, an avowed hawk on Venezuela — to grant Venezuelans the right to stay in the U.S. under so-called temporary protected status. That program, designed to deal with people fleeing natural disasters or civil unrest, offers recipients protection from removal and the right to work legally in the U.S. But administration officials have sought to dismantle the program as part of their wider efforts to reduce immigration.” 

While the number of unauthorized border crossers increased again last month, May is historically the high month for border crossings and March/April/May the high period. Typically, the number of border crossings declines as summer heat sets in. 

A second important factor to remember is that the Border Patrol’s “apprehended at border” number includes asylum seekers who were barred from applying at checkpoints. When that happens, some put their names on a list and wait for months in Mexico to get permission to approach the checkpoint. Others cross between checkpoints and then look for a Border Patrol officer to turn themselves in.

Writing for Vox, Dara Lind puts the. current wave of immigration into perspective

“What’s happening at the border is the result of a regional crisis in which — if current rates continue — close to 1 percent of the entire population of Guatemala and Honduras will attempt to immigrate to the US this year. The Mexican government, meanwhile, is vacillating between humanitarian rhetoric and militarized crackdowns, US border officials are openly begging for help, and Trump himself is throwing the mother of all temper tantrums.

“Trump’s threats will likely cause massive collateral damage throughout North America and aren’t even likely to stop people from arriving at the US-Mexico border, his stated goal. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem here, or even a crisis. It just means it’s not one that’s going to be solved anytime soon.

“Three things are simultaneously true:

  • The total number of people coming into the US without papers is still lower than it was for most of the 20th century, and substantially lower than its turn-of-the-century peak.
  • The total number of people coming into the US without papers is now higher than it’s been since early 2007, before the Great Recession.
  • The number of people coming into the US without papers who can’t simply be detained and deported — children, families, and asylum seekers — is almost certainly unprecedented.”


U.S. economic aid to the region has been cut, year after year. Now Trump has ordered an end to U.S. economic aid to the region. Instead of providing assistance to Central American countries to strengthen economies, create jobs, combat corruption, and generally attack the root causes of migration, this move will only exacerbate the forces pushing desperate people to seek safety in the United States.



About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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