As the courts, law enforcement, and the Trump administration continue to sort out what to do with the steady stream of migrants either crossing the southern border illegally or seeking asylum, the roots of the current misery are often forgotten.

People are fleeing persecution, violence and poverty in their home countries of Honduras, Guatemala & El Salvador- Central America’s Northern Triangle. The violence which was perpetuated by the States in the 1980s.

A caravan of around 7,000 Central Americans has taken shelter in the Mexican border city of Tijuana, along the US-Mexican border. Tijuana is closest to the now closed San Ysidro port, the single largest point of entry into States. The city is providing them with food and allowing them to camp, much to Trump’s anguish.

The mayor of Tijuana has called for international help amid mounting costs. His tweet, which was caught by President Trump, read,

“the city is ill-prepared to handle this many migrants, the backlog could last 6 months.”

Quoting the mayor, Trump tweeted that likewise US was also ill-prepared for this ‘invasion’.

Meanwhile, the residents of Tijuana have also started protesting against these illegal immigrants. The migrants now find themselves beleaguered with thousands of civilians protesting and urged that they go to south of California.

El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have the highest homicide rates in the world. Gangs, popularly known as maras, are responsible for much of the violence and crime. Most of the killers and victims are gang members themselves caught in turf battles. The rivalry between two such gangs, MS-13 and Barrio 18 became so violent around 2012 that the government of El Salvador had to intervene and broker a ceasefire.

Now, why should it concern the states? Well, because during the civil war in Central America during the 1980s, over a million people had fled to the US to escape the violence. Many went to Los Angeles, something the LA Police Department official website described as:

“The County and City of Los Angeles are the ‘gang capital’ of the nation.  There are more than 450 active gangs in the City of Los Angeles. Many of these gangs have been in existence for over 50 years. These gangs have a combined membership of over 45,000 individuals.”

The then Reagan administration denied refugee status to these Central American immigrants. Unable to fit in the social milieu, the poor and marginalised illegal immigrant youth joined the criminal gangs in LA and were forced into clandestine lives. During the nineties, US authorities cracked down on the gangs and deported thousands to Central America. But many of the deported, who were born or brought up in US, found it difficult to adjust in Central America and continued with their LA gang culture. They regrouped themselves locally with guns smuggled from the US and scaled up their crimes, taking advantage of the weak law enforcement and justice system of these countries.

According to a report by the Justice Department, LA continues to house over 250 gangs, some of them over 50 years old with a stronghold of 45,000.

This Report on The Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) explains the concerns of the current administration. The Trump administration has made the MS 13 gang its top priority. In a speech made on July 28, 2017 during his visit to Brentwood, Trump said,

“I have a simple message for every gang member and criminal alien that are threatening so violently our people: We will find you, we will arrest you, we will jail you and we will deport you.”

However, the migrants fear the US administration less than the gangs back home. People are extorted for the little money they have, women raped and children forced into labour. Experts worry that the crackdown of the government might not stop the people fleeing their country, but strengthen the criminal gangs along the border as the migrants turn to human traffickers as their last resort.

The Road Ahead

The current crackdown of the US authorities is not halting the caravans in their tracks, the laws of US make it a legal obligation to hear asylum claims from migrants who have arrived in the US if they say they fear violence in their home countries.

However, the asylum seekers must be fleeing due to a serious fear of persecution. Only then will they be considered refugees. If an asylum seeker enters the US illegally, they are still entitled to a hearing of their claim. But those seeking a better quality of life, fleeing devastating poverty – are not considered refugees and do not have the same protections.

The alternative is to stay in Mexico. Outgoing Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has said that those wanting to stay would be welcome and offered jobs, providing they agreed to register and comply with Mexican laws.

That might prove to be another problem for the refugees. “Mexico isn’t safe for Mexicans and the inflow of refugees will only worsen the situation,” worry experts.

Alternative Path

Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard is calling for US help to generate opportunities in the violence stricken Central America.

“Mexico by itself is going to invest in our own territory during the next administration, more than $20 billion, and so any serious effort regarding our brothers in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, should be for a similar amount,” Ebrard said.

This move, which came after U.S. border agents fired tear gas into Mexico, might prove to be a boon for the citizens.


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