Currently, rising immigration and refugee numbers are making headlines not only in Europe, but also in the Americas. The publication series “People in Movement – Migration in Latin America” (“Menschen in Bewegung – Migration in (Latein-)Amerika”) concerns itself with US immigration policy and the reasons for migration. For many, the central reasons are a yearning for freedom and security.
Because of the wide prosperity gap between North America and Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, many people from these regions are drawn to the USA. However, not every migrant plans on leaving their home forever. Most aim to earn money in the short to medium term as seasonal workers in the agricultural and gastronomical sectors or as caregivers, in order to provide financial support to their families. In Honduras, for instance, migrants' remittance payments account for 18 percent of the GDP, exceeding foreign direct investments by a factor of three.
Even though US-American immigration policy is more open than its European Union counterpart, this does not mean that all immigrants are welcomed with open arms. In 2014, the arrival of many unaccompanied, minor refugees from Central America caused widespread consternation in the US-American public. Heated political debates on how to deal with irregular, “undocumented” immigrants and on how to stop further migratory movements followed.
This topic also plays a big role in the current US presidential election: Donald Trump advocates building a wall along the southern US border and wants to deport all undocumented Latino immigrants. Hillary Clinton stands for a progressive immigration and integration policy. As Michael Czogalla proves, the US would profit from this policy both economically and socially.
For one, the present US foreign policy focusses on increased border controls, not just at the US-Mexico border, but also along Mexico's borders with its neighbor states Guatemala and Belize. This measure is supposed to lead to a stricter control of migration routes. In addition, the US strives to improve the economical and social conditions in origin states such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras through a human development approach. All of these acts aim at the reduction of immigration incentives regarding the US, as Eric Olson shows in his contribution “Drawing Borders and creating Prosperity Perspectives” (Grenzen ziehen und Wohlstandsperspektiven schaffen).
El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the countries of the “Northern Triangle” are severely affected by violence and insecurity. Organized gangs with up to 50.000 members control city neighborhoods and rural regions. Government institutions are often corrupt and closely intertwined with organized crime. Many citizens live in constant fear of robberies, extortion and forced recruitment by the gangs. Murder rates on a civil war level attest to the extreme violence people are exposed to. Further, unemployment levels are very high, so that young people can hardly hope for a life in dignity.
According to the economist Ana Ortega from the National University of Honduras, migration is also closely related to neoliberal economic policy. Foreign corporations exploit natural and mineral resources as well as the labor force. At the same time, the Honduran government does not adequately protect its citizens' human and workers' rights. Instead, corrupt elites are enriched through this exploitative system and profit from poorer communities' necessity for migration, thus leaving their positions of power uncontested.
The human yearning for a life in dignity and security is a dominant immigration factor in Latin America as well. The authors of the publication series “People in Movement – Migration in Latin America” demand that governments create the framework for providing such a life to their citizens. At the same time, a short-term goal must also be to ensure the survival and dignity of those people who do leave their country and want to earn a living somewhere else.
Some nations have taken first, vital steps: Costa Rica has recently entered into a Protection Transfer Arrangement with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). While their accommodation is being considered by the US, they find a safe haven in Costa Rica instead of being sent back their countries of origin, where they would be at particular risk.