The Central American exodus continues despite US pressure to impose strict migration controls in the region

November 6, 2019 – Conditions in Central America continue to displace people from their homes, forcing them to search for safety elsewhere in their own country or seek asylum elsewhere.  In Guatemala, for example, complaints of extortion continue to rise even while the country’s homicide rate has slightly decreased.  The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime still classifies Guatemala as the tenth most dangerous country in the world, with violence rates similar to those of Mexico and Colombia.

As Central American and Mexican governments expand their roles as instruments for US migration enforcement, both migrants and human traffickers, are adapting to new changes and conditions in the migration route.  The new restrictive policies make the journey even more perilous, with extortion on the rise. As reported in a special series by El Faro, Central Americans are entering Mexico in fear: many will be deported to their countries of origin, only to try again. Those who are able to reach the US/Mexico border are denied entry and forced to wait either in Mexico or another transit country.  Even when faced with these challenges, however, people who are fleeing violence and poverty have little choice but to leave their homes in search of a dignified future elsewhere.

Last week also brought some surprising news with the announcement that work permits and protections for Salvadoran recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States would be extended until at least January 2021. Days later, the Department of Homeland Security announced similar measures for Honduras, Nicarauga, Sudan, Nepal and Haiti in order to comply with the preliminary court injunction in the 9th circuit as a result of the Ramos v. Nielson case. 

President Nayib Bukele also announced that Salvadorans would receive an additional year of protection, resulting from his negotiations surrounding the recent asylum agreement with the US, which will enable sharing of biometric information and allow US officials to train national police and immigration enforcement, among other concessions.  While extending TPS work permits is indeed welcome news for the thousands of families living with the daily fear and uncertainty around the impending cancellations, this announcement should not distract from the urgent work of advocacy toward permanent residency for TPS, DACA and DED holders. Human rights activists across the region have also condemned the Trump Administration for pressuring the government of El Salvador to enter into an agreement that could put many asylum-seekers at risk.  

Migrants Remain in Misery in Mexico

Makeshift tents surrounding the Río Bravo make up the new scenery in Matamoro, Tamaulipas in northern Mexico, where over 2,000 migrants from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Mexico wait for their asylum cases to be heard.  Lack of food, water, and bathrooms have created precarious conditions for those who have been forced to wait.  As the government has been unable to care for and protect migrants, religious groups and civil society organizations have stepped in to play a crucial role.  Meanwhile, the Ministry of the Interior has promised to offer humanitarian visas and work permits to African migrants who have been stranded in southern Mexico and vulnerable to violence and rights violations.

Record Numbers of Detentions

Anti-immigrant policies and regional agreements coming from the Trump administration have increased the number of migrant detentions to unprecedented levels.  Last week in the United States, the Acting Commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection announced that arrests of families and unaccompanied minors at the border grew to record levels in FY 2018-2019, as 473,682 family members were detained, compared to 107,212 in the previous year.  Additionally, 76,020 unaccompanied minors, exceeding the numbers from the 2014 crisis.

After nearly one year in office, the López Obrador administration in Mexico has detained over 40,000 unaccompanied minors.  The alarming rate at which the Mexican government is detaining children in cruel, inhumane, and illegal conditions is a direct product of US pressure to outsource enforcement and contain migration flows.