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International Voices

Mexico and Central America: An Impending Immigration Crisis

Para leer este artículo en español, haz click aquí.

We are no strangers to immigration and to the issues that arise from it. In today’s globalized society it is common to hear about people moving from one country to another and to meet individuals who are descendants from immigrants. In the United States especially, stories of adversity and the trials people have had to endure to make a better living here are part of the American heritage in spite of recent political rhetoric. We have also witnessed a similar development in Europe as Middle Eastern and African refugees seek asylum. While much of the media has covered these events, we often do not hear about other parts of the world that experience the same, if not worse, issues with immigration.

Such is the case between Mexico and Central America, more specifically Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras. Just like their Mexican counterparts, Central American migrants have been traveling through Mexico to get to the United States and find a better means of living here. Truly, their home countries’ situations are certainly not favorable ones; violence, poverty, and a vulnerable economy encourage their citizens to strive to have a better life in the United States. As a result, thousands of people from Central America enter Mexico each year and begin their journey northward.

This movement of people has been increasing in recent years to an extent that has culminated in the immigrant caravan that is testing the relationship between all involved countries and peoples. On October 19, 2018, a group of 7000 Central American migrants, originating mainly in Honduras, arrived at the Guatemala-Mexico border hoping to enter Mexico so that they may continue their journey to the United States. The result was a clash between border security and immigrants that generated impactful images of desperate people seeking a better life and government officials attempting to maintain secure borders. While we have often seen these struggles in the United States or Europe, the truth is that immigration is also an issue in Mexico.

The current Mexican government administration has proposed a short-term plan to deal with the crisis. President Peña Nieto announced that this proposal entails allowing the people to enter the Southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas while their refugee paperwork is processed. The plan also involves medical support and temporary jobs for the Central American migrants. While the plan may offer a solution to the immigration crisis, the extent to which it will mediate the situation is uncertain, especially because the current administration will soon be replaced as the next president, Lopez Obrador, takes oath on December 1, 2018.

Obrador has also proposed a plan. His administration has discussed offering working visas to Central American migrants who wish to remain in Mexico. Yet most migrants do not wish to stay in Mexico, but rather plan to make their way to the United States. Moreover, job opportunities are not terribly attractive in Mexico; the country, similar to Central America, still struggles with high poverty, unemployment, and violence rates.

Honestly, I am doubtful of the two proposed approaches. Peña Nieto is allowing migrants to temporarily stay in two of the states closest to the Guatemala border, but Chiapas and Oaxaca are also the least developed states in Mexico. He is ultimately relocating people in need to regions that cannot help them. Obrador’s take on the issue is also ineffective. The Mexican economy has recently shown concerning signs of instability, and the Central Americans’ goal is not to stay in the country. In the end, Mexico is not in an appropriate condition to help its Southern neighbors. If the Mexican government can barely help its citizens, how will it be able to help others? Yet we have to understand that both responses are somewhat moderate proposals to prevent Trump’s threat to militarize the border and more importantly to secure Mexico’s own borders.

While I am certainly concerned about the diplomatic consequences that will result from this interaction, I am most troubled by the possible response from the Mexican people. The truth is that many of my fellow Mexicans are xenophobic towards Central Americans. Sadly, I see it every year when I go home during summer; there will be a migrant asking for food or money on the street, and people tend look down upon them or be scared to approach them. A common view that many Mexicans share of Central Americans is that they are inferior to us, or that they are criminals. It is a sad reality that permeates throughout Mexico, and I fear that the developing crisis may spike attacks against migrants.

My hope is that the ongoing events are not a chance to reveal our biases as Mexicans, but to take their presence as an opportunity to understand their struggle and discover that we are more similar than we appear. Both Mexico and Central America share much in common, including culture and history. We often forget that in 1821, both regions came into independence as one single country. Furthermore, our shared fight for a better quality of life and our decisions to move to the United States should make us work together, not against one another. 

With the caravan slowly crossing the Mexico-Guatemala border to make its way to the United States, we will have to wait and see how the relationship between our closely-related countries and people develops.