Mexico, Guatemala, the US and Migration

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas met Feb.17 in the Guatemalan capital with that country’s president, Bernardo Arévalo, to evaluate the management of migration in the hemisphere, the fight against transnational criminality and other issues. It is relevant to list here some of the elements of the background of this meeting.

In the first place, Washington has been exerting increasing diplomatic pressure on the countries south of the Rio Grande to adopt measures aimed at stopping or slowing the flow of people trying to reach the U.S., most of whom are seeking to escape poverty, insecurity or violence.

Although the response to such pressures has varied, they have existed for a long time, reaching a level of xenophobic delirium during Donald Trump’s administration (2017-2021). Although the pressure has diminished, it still persists under Joe Biden. The Biden administration, in turn, has been getting hammered by sectors of the right and the ultraright, which, because of ideology or crude election calculations, are trying to blame all the country’s ills on foreigners and, consequently, demand the federal government deal more firmly in detaining migrants trying to get into the United States. In connection with these attacks, members of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives voted to impeach Mayorkas himself for not having done enough, they say, to stop migration.

Paradoxically, from the start of the current six-year Mexican presidential term, the Mexican government put forth the solution that Arévalo and Mayorkas have been working on and enacting successfully for more than two years in Honduras and El Salvador and from the beginning of last year in Guatemala itself: in those countries, the Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation has set up versions of the social programs Sembrando Vida (Sowing Life) and Jóvenes Construyendo el Futuro (Youth Building the Future), with tens of thousands of beneficiaries. Among those who had been thinking about migrating to the U.S., a large majority gave up on the idea and opted to remain in their home countries.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s government has emphasized the success of those programs in asking the U.S. to contribute to their financial support in the countries mentioned, where Sowing Life and Youth Building the Future have been implemented with only Mexican funding. However, Washington has done little or nothing in response to the request and has stubbornly kept its aid within the traditional framework of the U.S. Agency for International Development. USAID’s focus is not on creating conditions of wellbeing for the people who do not immigrate, but rather on financing companies, official government agencies and nongovernmental organizations to administer the funds. Instead of promoting better living conditions for those who are poor, marginalized and unemployed, it fosters corruption, lack of transparency and the proliferation of nonprofit organizations whose payrolls and administrative expenses eat up most of the resources.

It is time to talk openly about the undeniable fact that migration is not the problem but is rather its expression; that what is driving mass migration is the lack of prospects for rural populations, young people and vulnerable groups. It is time to engage in a regional collaboration that certainly permits reducing the flow of migrants but, above all, contributes to building a dignified life for the millions who have not had one.

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