Is the U.S. Flouting the Law regarding Central America’s Exodus?

U.S. Immigration – Part 2 of 2.

Political experts give insight into Central America’s mass exodus and what role the U.S. has played in it.

The Trump administration didn’t surprise many U.S. citizens with his anti-immigration stance, but many weren’t sure to what extent the administration would go to control it. Many wondered with the ensuing crisis at the U.S. southern border and rapidly changing immigration policies, why this exodus of people from Central America was happening in the first place?

Explanations to the national legalities, history of U.S. immigration policy and our duty to immigrants can be referenced in article 1 of this 2 part series found here.  Part 1 of 2- Flouting the Law

The economic destabilization of several Central American countries and growing narco-political influence on governments has caused one of the largest foreign migrations the U.S. has seen in years.

The Search for a Better Life

Originally from El Salvador, “Elizabeth” was abandoned by her husband shortly after they had children. Her sister found herself in a similar situation. They decided to live together to help each other out. One day, Elizabeth’s niece got sick and needed to go see the doctor, so her sister took her. While waiting at the doctor’s office for their appointment, a local gang member threw in a grenade, killing the niece and seriously maiming Elizabeth’s sister. 

The doctor had failed to pay extortion money to a local gang, and this was the consequence. Elizabeth applied for asylum to the U.S. shortly after that, but her sister stayed behind. After settling in the U.S., Elizabeth received word her sister had been shot and murdered in the streets.

Her sister had become a vocal activist and had started a campaign to prevent children from being recruited by these gangs. Elizabeth’s oldest daughter, still living with her aunt while finishing school, witnessed the murder and left for the U.S. the very next day.

Elizabeth now lives in Boulder, Colorado in peace. She works at a local butcher, ineligible to access the social system for additional assistance or medical aid, as her asylum case processes. She just wants to live a happy, safe life with her children.

Mexican Pedestrians waiting to cross into the US at Calexico. (Photo: U.S Customs and Border Patrol)

“There is a breakdown in the rule of law in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, which is where the wave of immigrants is coming from these days,”

Ian McKinley– Immigration Lawyer

U.S. Immigration at Home

Immigration lawyer Ian McKinley, who relayed the story of “Elizabeth” (an alias to protect her identity.) To demonstrate the dire situation some refugees face. In his opinion, the tactics used by the current U.S. administration to deter refugees from obtaining asylum is appalling. “The family separation policy was meant to scare immigrants into not coming to the United States by the prospect of being separated [from] their children, and so it’s despicable,” McKinley says. “It’s absolutely despicable.”

Undeterred, droves of immigrants from these Central American countries continue to arrive at the U.S.’s southern border. Why? It’s the risk they take in search of a better life. “[They’re] just good people who are looking to bring their family out of an awful situation … a situation no American would put up with,” McKinley says. “If I were in [their] shoes, I would do the same thing.”

Multinational Corporations 

Many Central Americans leave their countries to make that 2,000-mile trek north to escape gang violence, crumbling economic infrastructures. Due in part to historical U.S. political interests and economic interventions.

According to Dr. David Brown, professor of political science at the University of Colorado-Boulder, multinational corporations bring in foreign money, stagnate wages and choke economic expansion by extracting the most profit. This simultaneously creates cyclical debt and financial instability in these countries. 

Overseas-based factories have extraterritoriality rights, which exempt these operations from following local, international, or human rights laws, creating a further degradation of civilization. Multi-nationals disregard worker rights and labor standards in spite of anti-corruption laws.

“The lack of development of institutions and many of the economic conditions that exist today have resulted from that sort of political climate and the U.S.’s involvement.”

Dr. David A. Brown


Corruption and drug cartels exacerbate poverty in these countries. Honduras, for example, has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, and one of the lowest livable wages.  

Latin America has gone through many periods of turbulence. Navigating its way through authoritarian regimes and budding democracies. In most of these circumstances, the U.S. government was tied both economically and politically. “The lack of development of institutions and many of the economic conditions that exist today have resulted from that sort of political climate and the U.S.’s involvement,” Brown says.

The economic benefit of cheap labor, inexpensive agriculture and ties with these countries’ elite spurred tensions. Coupled with concerns of a growing “Red Tide” beyond Cuba, several U.S. presidents placed resources in the hands of people willing to crush insurgency seen as a threat to the U.S. business and profit.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security Investigations led a multi-agency inspection of the MSC Gayane that resulted in the seizure of about 35,000 pounds of cocaine discovered in seven shipping containers June 17, 2019. The cocaine seizure is a CBP record.

According to Brown, when extremely corrupt administrations are coupled with drug cartels, it degrades the social construct. Brown believes this lands part of the blame in U.S. hands for allowing these countries to flounder from the U.S.’s vested interest, interventions and neglect. 

Governments & the Drug Cartel

Yet according to Peter Smith, University of Colorado Political Science professor and author of “Democracy in Latin America” and “Talons of the Eagle: Latin America, and The United States,” the most significant threat facing Central Americans today isn’t political relations or upheaval; it’s drug trafficking. 

“There are gangs that make deals with the government,” Smith explains. “They are gangs from below and outside [their host country]; they’re wreaking havoc and threatening citizens with all kinds of mayhem.”

Citizens are heavily pressured to join the cartel or face execution. The Honduran government isn’t equipped to deal with this situation that is close to being out of control. As a result, the immigrant caravan and tensions in Central America is a problem of consumption, not of supply. Smith says if the U.S. wanted to fix the issue directly, it must address the origin of the drug problem.

“You could either legalize it, or you could become so effective with public health programs, that you cut down consumption by a substantial margin,” Smith said. “In this indirect sense, the United States is a major participant in the drug trafficking chain. If you made it legal for all drugs, the problem in Central America would just go away.”

Peter Smith. PhD.

U.S. Immigration Admission

On April 8, 2019, U.S. District Judge Richard ­Seeborg blocked the administration’s recent change to U.S. immigration policy. It required asylum seekers to wait out hearing times in Mexico, as their cases progressed through the immigration court system. The department of homeland security sent several hundred refugees back after claiming asylum on U.S. soil, subjecting them to trafficking, kidnapping and extortion. Under the old protocol, immigrants were paroled into the U.S. to await their hearings.

Seeborg’s injunction temporarily halted the policy, which experts say was aimed at deterring Central Americans from entering the U.S.

According to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse center (TRAC), which compiles immigration court data, one hundred and three thousand migrants arrived in March 2019. Resulting in the highest one-month total in 12 years, The Washington Post reports. Following this, the Trump administration sought to charge asylees fees, along with filing their “credible fear” claims.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Provide Testimony

“Genuine asylum seekers, by definition, leave in the most urgent of circumstances,” says David A. Martin, former Homeland Security deputy general counsel. “If you’re going to leave the possibility of refuge for people who legally qualify truly open, you wouldn’t impose a barrier of a fee.”

David A. Martin-

The Fewest In Decades

Work permits or social assistance are restricted to refugees who are waiting for their cases to be heard or who enter “illegally.”

The administration claims this will stop immigrants from filing “fraudulent asylum claims,” and “gaming the system,” reported The Washington Post.

Historically, the U.S. has had more immigrants than all other countries combined. For the first time in 30 years, according to Pew Research Center, the U.S. took in the least amount of immigrants. According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the U.S. immigration admitted 45,000 immigrants less than the average of the decade, only resettled 21,292 refugees in 2018.

Trump’s protocol demonstrates an indifference toward the international humanitarian standard code of ethics that the U.S. has been a member of for decades.

Beyond Backlogged

With only 63 courts available to handle all pending U.S. immigration cases nationwide, it would take years to work through all of them, not including new cases.

“Almost a decade ago, asylum cases started to pile up again, and the government failed to invest enough in the immigration courts to keep up,” says Martin. “Now the court backlog exceeds 850,000 cases, including asylum, with approximately 400 judges to handle them.”

The administration’s request to build a wall for $5.7 billion, led to a 35-day government shutdown from December 22, 2017, to January 25, 2018. This resulted in the cancellation of an estimated 42,000 immigration court hearings.

As a result, the government has hired more U.S.immigration judges for asylees who wait in detention centers across the border, the adjudications can not come soon enough.

Note: This is the second of a two-part series.


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