"So They're Not All Mexican?" Pt. 2
By Jordan Brownlow
Welcome back to this week’s edition of, “So they’re not all Mexican?” Now that we have established the basic idea of what’s going on at the border, let’s discuss some of the reasons behind the increase in women and children coming from “The Northern Triangle.”
Also, quick trigger warning: this post gets kind of heavy, so be prepared and know that these countries, while they do have their problems, are also working through some stuff ,and the US isn’t infallible either (especially when it comes to the causes of violence in these countries, but that’s something for another post).
“The Northern Triangle” is made up of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Basically, the reasons behind the surge can be narrowed down to violence, lack of opportunity in their home countries, family reunification in the United States, and smuggling networks spreading misinformation. In this post I will focus on the violence in these countries because it impacts most asylum seekers.
These three countries have been plagued by civil wars and gang violence for almost 50 years with economic depressions flaring in 2014 and 2016 that led to an increase in family migration. Their governments also struggle with severe corruption and inefficiency, meaning they are institutionally incapable of protecting their most at risk citizens. These three countries top the list of most homicides per 100,000 people, with El Salvador and Honduras having a murder rate four times that of Mexico, the country ranked 4th. Further, it is estimated that 95% of homicides in “The Northern Triangle” go unpunished. In a report published by the UNHCR, it was found that 85% of asylum seekers in the US had lived in neighborhoods completely controlled by cartels, 64% had been targets of attacks by the cartels, and 62% said that they frequently saw dead bodies lying in the streets of their neighborhoods. As Reverend Mark J. Seitz, the Bishop of El Paso puts it, “the life-threatening journey north is seen as a family strategy to protect a child, as Central American governments are unable to fully protect their citizens.” Often, the case for families is to either work with the cartels or flee.
In 2016 alone, 91% of all migrant families caught at the border were coming from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. In November 2016, the New York Times published an article interviewing several of the migrant families. One father described a situation where the gangs were demanding he hand over his daughter, who was at the time 10 years old, to be the girlfriend of a gang member and his son to work as a drug mule. The family decided to flee Guatemala after the corpse of a boy appeared on their doorstep in response to the father’s denial to hand over his children to the gang (to read more about this family’s story click here). These stories are common, with most families speaking of the persistence and ferocity of the gangs - implementing “war taxes,” sometimes adding up to half a family’s income, forcing young girls to marry them and young boys to work for them, and murdering family members without compliance. As the violence becomes more widespread, the age of the victims becomes lower and lower, leading to an increase in not only family migration, but the migration of unaccompanied minors (you can find more about this here). Juan, a migrant fleeing gangs in Honduras, described it, “You don’t migrate now in search of the American dream… You go for your life.”
Bottom line: the situations that have caused these individuals to flee their home countries are serious, and when they arrive to the US they should be treated with dignity and respect not pity or further discrimination.
United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Government Affairs
World Health Organization