Migration from Northern Triangle Countries Presses Mexico, US

04 July, 2019

Reverend Fernando Cuevas has watched migrants leave for Mexico from the steps of his church in a town on Guatemala's border. He has seen large and small groups gather in the town to get on small boats waiting to carry them to Mexico.

Cuevas says there is little effort by the Guatemalan government to stop migrants from crossing into Mexico illegally on rafts.

"Having no immigration policy is also a policy," Cuevas said. "There are too many conflicts of interest to stop migration."

The governments of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have said nothing as U.S. President Donald Trump threatened Mexico with tariffs. The tariffs were meant to punish Mexico for permitting thousands of migrants to flow to the U.S. southern border.

The Associated Press reports that the migrants are mainly from the so-called Northern Triangle countries -- not Mexico.

A major reason for their silence? The countries of the Northern Triangle depend heavily on the money their citizens send home from other countries.

In Honduras, remittances totaled more than $4.8 billion last year. The central bank says that is more than 20 percent of the country's economy. In Guatemala, remittances are more than $9 billion. And in El Salvador they are about $5.5 billion.

Efforts to improve conditions in the Northern Triangle

Mexico has deployed thousands of National Guard troops across its territory to help control migration.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador supports a United Nations-backed development plan for the Northern Triangle area and southern Mexico. He says the U.S. government also has promised to guarantee investments.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, right, and the President of El Salvador Nayib Bukele, raise their arms during a visit to a tree nursery at a military reserve in Tapachula, Mexico, Thursday, June 20, 2019.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, right, and the President of El Salvador Nayib Bukele, raise their arms during a visit to a tree nursery at a military reserve in Tapachula, Mexico, Thursday, June 20, 2019.

Last month, López Obrador offered El Salvador's president, Nayib Bukele, a $30-million donation for a reforestation and jobs program. López Obrador is expanding his own version of that program. He hopes it will stop Mexicans in rural areas from migrating to the U.S.

The Northern Triangle governments face problems of poverty, crime and violence. Such conditions are driving emigration.

Last month, Mexican Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero said Mexico was not to blame. "The Americans really believe that we're not doing our job," she said. "We are doing it...The issue is the humanitarian crisis in Honduras" and the rest of Central America.

Sanchez Cordero said Honduran officials told Mexico that about 500,000 of their citizens had left the country since last fall.

Guatemalan officials say they have been fighting the problem.

In May, Guatemala announced it had broken up a human smuggling ring that made $10 million by taking people to the United States. The announcement came while acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan was visiting the area. The U.S. is also sending immigration agents to work as advisers to their Guatemalan counterparts.

Fernando Neira Orjuela is with the Research Center for Latin America and the Caribbean at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

He said, "That the migrants leave, for some of these governments, is like shedding problems — fewer jobs to worry about, fewer social issues to attend to."

Neira added that the Central American countries consider remittances an important economic gain.

When asked about the tension between Mexico and the United States over immigration, Honduran Deputy Foreign Affairs Secretary Nelly Jerez said, "Those are bilateral situations between the United States and Mexico."

But this week, El Salvador's president said he took responsibility for the loss of life of his country's citizens at the U.S. border.

Bukele spoke about the tragic death of a Salvadoran father and his 2-year-old daughter. They drowned last month while trying to cross the Rio Grande River into Texas. "They fled El Salvador. They fled our country. It is our fault," Bukele said.

I'm Mario Ritter Jr.

Christopher Sherman reported this story for the Associated Press. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted the story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

migrant –n. a person who travels from one area to another in search of work

raft –n. a flat, very simple boat

remittance –n. an amount of money sent often across borders

emigration –n. to leave a country or area to live somewhere else

smuggle –v. to move something or people from one country or another secretly or illegally

shed –v. to lose

bilateral –adj. involving two groups or countries

restore –v. to give back, to provide again what was taken away