In order to solve immigration issues, we have to address the root causes

By Aislinn Walsh
May 4, 2020

In an era with border tensions heightened and families separated in detention centers, many Americans fail to understand the motives behind the migrant growth in the US. Unfortunately, the term “migrant” can provoke fear. Will they cause danger? Will they take my job? How will they change my community? However, the question, “Why are they coming?” seems to be forgotten about. 

Juan Sheenan, a Catholic Relief Services representative who worked in Honduras, noted during a visit to Cabrini University that there are several migration push factors. Some leave Honduras for employment and educational opportunities, while others are primarily motivated out of fear and safety.  

The Central American immigrant population has skyrocketed since the 1980s. The current population is ten times higher then it was 40 years ago. Infographic from Migration Policy.

Since the civil wars in the 1980s, Central America has been overrun by the presence of gangs and violence. MS-13 and the 18th Street gang are the most prominent gangs. Membership in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua is estimated to be around 54,000 people. This number does not include the membership in various local gangs.  

A vast majority of members are youth and have ties to gangs since childhood. 

Involvement with the gangs is not easily avoidable. They interfere with the lives of innocent citizens.  

According to the U.S Department of Justice, “gangs have increasingly been involved in extortions of residents, bus drivers, and business owners in major cities throughout the region. Failure to pay often results in harassment or violence by gang members.” 

According to Crisis Group International, transportation companies are frequently targeted by gangs for failure to pay the gang’s demands or for crossing through gang territory.

  For example, between 2009 and 2011, gangs were responsible for the deaths of “498 bus drivers, 158 ticket inspectors and 191 passengers” in Guatemala. 

Even girls, as young as 11, are given grim ultimatums: to be raped by gang members or have their families murdered.  

The homicide rate in El Salvador and Honduras consistently rank as the highest in the world. For example, the 2017 homicide rate in Honduras was 42 per 100,000. Compared to the United States, which saw a rate of 5 homicides per 100,000 residents, this is extremely high. 

A gang territory map in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Photo by Derek Watkins of The New York Times.

There is a clear issue here. People are moving to the U.S not because they want to, but because they have no other option.  The lives of innocent people are being threatened every day.  

 Politics aside, U.S foreign aid can be extremely beneficial in eliminating the threat of violence in Central America and can aid economic growth.  

 A significant portion of foreign aid budget goes towards Poverty-Focused Development Assistance (PFDA). According to OxFam America, PFDA is money “specifically directed towards improving livelihoods and promoting economic growth…provides much-needed services such as health care and education and helps create long-lasting solutions to poverty.” 

The money goes to programs run by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Many NGOs take a holistic approach and tailor programs to meet the needs of a community.  

For example, YouthBuild of Central America, a program administered by Catholic Relief Services, seeks to eliminate gang violence by providing youth, especially former gang members, with job training opportunities.  

 This program is a win-win situation since it sets the youth up with a sustainable future and curtails violence in Central America. Hopefully, in the long term, it would decrease the need to migrate to the U.S for safety. 

The United States’ investment in foreign aid is minor. Each year, less than one percent of the U.S budget was spent on foreign aid in total. However, there is always a need for more financial support. 

If you are interested in Poverty-Focused Development and the work that NGOs do, here are a few ways you can help: 

  • Write a letter to your district’s  Senator and Representative asking them to increase their budget for PFDA
  • Donate directly to Cathlioc Relief Services, which works closely with governments and nonprofits in Central America
  • Visit the website, Friends of San Lucas, an excellent non-profit organization that works with San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala, to create opportunities based on the town’s needs. (Note: Friends of San Lucas runs primarily on donor funds; however, the principle and methodology remains the same.)

Aislinn Walsh

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