The Trump administration is fixated on how you stop Central American migrants from coming to the United States. The number of families crossing the US/Mexico border is unprecedented.
Experts point to poverty and violence in Central America as the root causes of migration. Family reunification and job opportunity pull people toward the United States. I’m certain that those factors are all at play. But, there seems to be something else underlying this migration.
Historians say that you can’t write a good history until at least ten years after the event. You need that distance for clarity and honesty. I would venture to say that the current flow of Central American families to the United States will not truly be understood for years to come.
I’ve been reading the beautiful history, The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson, about the historic migration out of the southern United States post-Reconstruction. She chronicles the many reasons for that migration – poverty, violence, job opportunities in the north, and how people follow others who have migrated before them. All of this parallels the Central American migration. But, what struck me most in reading her work was the migrants the loss of faith in a future – the idea that African Americans went North because they didn’t see a future for themselves in the South.
Hope is often at the root of migration. Hope for a better life in another place.
But the flip side of the hope in someplace new, is a dashed hope at home. It represents a fundamental belief that things won’t change for your generation or the next. I fear that has happened in Central America.
This insight changes how you think about responding to the current crisis of family migration. Maybe you think less about how to “stop” hopeless people and more about why they became so hopeless in the future of their own countries.
That question leads you to reflect upon the oligarchs of Central America who have held onto and concentrated wealth for generations and refuse to pay their fair share of taxes, leaving weak governments that they can control. Wealthy individuals buy their family’s security while poor neighborhoods suffer crime and violence. Innovative anti-corruption mechanisms in Guatemala and Honduras (the current focal points of migration) are being dismantled by elites fearful of accountability.
I think that Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador suffer from a cumulative lack of hope that we will not fully comprehend for another decade. But right now, we should think about how a lack of hope plays into migration. What would it look like to construct a policy agenda that confronts entrenched interests that have stolen hope and create an environment where people can see a future?