The death of a Guatemalan child in the custody of US Customs and Border Protection personnel gives reason for pause and retrospection. How has United States immigration and foreign policy played a role in worsening the socioeconomic conditions driving so many Central Americans to emigrate?
“The forces driving ordinary people to leave their homes and put their lives at risk crossing deserts with smugglers to get to the US border are deeply rooted in Central America’s history of inequality and violence, in which the US has long played a defining role.
The flow of migrants trying to cross the border illegally is not all blowback from US foreign policy. Much of the poverty, injustice and murder in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras is homegrown, harking back to the age of Spanish conquest. Small criminal elites have long prospered at the expense of the populations.
Experts on the region argue, however, that when politicians or activists have come forward on behalf of its dispossessed, the US has consistently intervened on the side of the powerful and wealthy to help crush them, or looked the other way when they have been slaughtered.
The families in the migrant caravans trudging towards the US border are trying to escape a hell that the US has helped to create.
Sometimes it has been a matter of unintended consequences. Enforcement measures targeting migrants have multiplied the cost of smugglers’ services. Desperate customers take out big loans at high interest in order to pay. The only hope of paying off those loans is to reach the US, so even if they fail at their quest, they have no choice but to try again, and again.“