New survey analyzes impact of poverty and violence on migration from Central America

Central Americans polled cited economic factors, such as low wages and unemployment, as the most common triggers for migration to the United States and other countries, according to a new report from the Migration Policy Institute.

Natural disasters and violence have also been listed as motivations to migrate, according to data from a 2021 United Nations World Food Program survey in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, although they are less likely to occur. be listed as the most important factors. Almost 5,000 households participated in the survey.

The report notes how violence, poverty, hunger and climate disasters are often interconnected, creating general conditions that push people to migrate to another country.

Of those Central American household members surveyed who reported having migrated in the past five years, 85 percent said they left mainly because of poverty.

“That’s not to say that there aren’t some underlying reasons that link the economy to insecurity and violence,” said Ariel Ruiz Soto, analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. generally respond with the most triggering factor.

But he said that in the follow-up conversations, there was often more to the story.

“When we spoke to people in El Salvador, they told us that they didn’t feel like they could open their own job or their own business because they didn’t want to pay rents to gang members and these quotas for gang protection, ”he said.

In the survey, violence and insecurity accounted for 8 percent of the main reasons respondents migrate.

Almost half of all Central Americans surveyed said the violence had increased or remained the same when asked.

Honduran migrant Douglas Mendez, 21, cited violence as the main reason he left his home country.

“They (gang members) told me they were going to kill me,” Mendez said in Spanish. “So, it was time for me to go. “

Mendez spoke to the Houston Chronicle at a shelter near the Texas-Mexico border in Acuña, Mexico, and said his career choice of working for the police made him vulnerable to gang violence.

“When you study to be a police officer, you are one of the people that they (the gangs) are most seeking to kill,” he said.

Mendez said a friend was murdered by gang members who were looking for him. An official document from Honduras showed that he was a protected crime witness.

Mendez fled to the United States but said he was returned to Mexico before he could seek asylum, possibly under Title 42, an immigration policy implemented during the pandemic that denies de many migrants access to asylum applications on the pretext that the government protects public health.

The report also shows that 37% of Hondurans who responded to the survey said they had a pessimistic view of their standard of living, which was worse than that of Guatemalans and Salvadorans. Only 9% of Hondurans had a positive attitude, although other Central Americans did not react with much optimism either.

The report also found that the average Central American household in the survey spent $ 300 each month on needs such as food, shelter, education, and transportation.

Although poverty has been listed as a reason for leaving Central America, it has also been cited as a barrier to immigration as travel to the United States can be expensive.

Another recent report, from the Hope Border Institute, interviewed Central American migrants at three shelters in the border town of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

In interviews, Central Americans noted that gang violence and gender-based violence were major triggers that pushed them to leave their home countries, while poverty – exacerbated by natural disasters and the pandemic – was another. critical factor.

The report highlighted the experience of a middle-class Honduran migrant whose salary at her job in a bank at her home was cut by 65% ​​after the start of the pandemic, prompting her to contract a loan.

After paying off the loan amount, the lenders extorted her and threatened to kill her. When the police told her to keep paying, she decided to leave home and immigrate to the United States.

“Luz’s story is an example of the blow the pandemic has dealt the middle class across Latin America and how criminal groups have seized the opportunity to take advantage of the vulnerable and desperate,” said the report.

In the Migration Policy Institute report, the authors also listed regional investments that would create more livable conditions to help Central America stay in their home country, especially in light of COVID-19 and related emergencies. to the climate.

One of the recommendations was to create and expand vocational training programs to reduce unemployment, as well as to create tailor-made municipal investments, such as an agricultural program in rural areas affected by climate change. Due to the powerful effect of remittances on Central American economies, the report noted that the diaspora may also invest in public infrastructure where they have links.

The report also recommended that the United States create temporary work visas, to create legal channels to “reduce the estimated $ 1.7 billion Central Americans spend annually on irregular migration with a smuggler and increase instead. government revenues – for example, through reasonable administration fees ”.

“If you focus on these legal avenues for labor migration not as a substitute for migration, but as an alternative to irregular migration, it would not only be to the benefit of migrants to have better and better mechanisms. safe, but also to the advantage of the country, ”said Ruiz Soto.

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