Thursday, August 16, 2007

Migrant Nightmare

Migrants Live the American Nightmare

Guatemala's main newspaper, Prensa Libre, published an article entitled "Wave of Deportees". I recommend you read it in Spanish if you can, because it is written beautifully, but I have translated the article for those who only speak English. It chronicles what Guatemalan deportees are going through better than most English language media, but more importantly it tackles the issues no one speaks about: what all of this means for a nation like Guatemala. Very few people even consider the countries that people come from in the U.S. "immigration debate", and even fewer act on the increasing pressure that Emigration States are facing. When bettering Emigration States is the only real way that we are going to fix the problems associated with migration, it's kind of ridiculous the issue is hardly ever brought up, much less acted upon.

Both U.S. Progressives and Conservatives are guilty of neglecting Emigration States. Very few act in the true interests of Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Hondurans, etc. Progressives will often pick up a sexy issue, like when the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional rebelled against NAFTA, or more recently as locals have struggled to regain control of their sacred traditions in Oaxaca. Social conservatives will complain about the horrible working conditions for people in Emigration States only when their jobs are shipped abroad. But who's there for the people in this Prensa Libre article? They'll fight like hell for them while they're in the U.S. but when they're back home no one is there for them. Migration advocates are divided by national boundaries even though they are trying to deal with an international problem.

People will scream about families being seperated in the U.S. but where were they when the families were seperated in the first place as people decided to leave? People will yell about the deaths at the U.S. border but who brings to light the many deaths that occur before migrants even come close to the U.S.? Conservatives want to send migrants home but they don't realize they are forcing more people to leave in the process.

I try to advocate from a Guatemalan perspective but it's lonely, and as a privileged white male, I'm not the most effective advocate. Still I want to bring people's attention to one of issues that I have been bringing up since I started this blog. The Prensa Libre article on the 24,000 deportees that are going to be sent back to the country has some excellent analysis on what this means for Guatemala. Luis Linares, an analyst from the Guatemalan Association of Social Investigations and Studies (ASIES), has this to say:

For Luis Linares, analyst from ASIES, the increasing deportations are going to further aggravate the social situation in the country.

First, because everytime more unemployed people arrive in the country that need to find work, and because the families that depended on remittances from the United States are left without that income.

"The impact on the national economy might not seem notable, but for many families it is a serious problem," explained Linares.

He signaled that it will have a marked effect on the Central American region, now that the massive return of migrants is being noted in all of the countries on the Isthmus.

The challenge for the country, said Linares, is the creation of employment, both to make opportunities for the people that return and also to avoid having Guatemalans making the march abroad to look for resources.

U.S. deportation policies have ravaged the hemisphere. They have exported gangs that used to be relegated to Los Angeles, Mara 18 and Mara Salvatrucha, all over the hemisphere. Crime in places like Guatemala is skyrocketing, exceeding civil war levels, when over 200,000 people were killed. Just yesterday a Guatemalan mayor was killed (BBC article and Prensa Libre article), the eighth to be assasinated since 2003. And I'm not even talking about the economic consequences that Linares states very clearly up above. Not only are masses of unemployed people being dumped in the country but the people they used to support are now suffering. This is a crisis for Guatemala, bigger than anything that the United States is confronting.

What is even more frustrating is how simple the solution is. Guatemala's Ministry for External Relations is working on this program:

She insisted that considering the situation, Guatemalans should weigh very seriously the decision to march off to the United States, because they risk their lives and there is a good chance they will get deported. "They shouldn't leave because there is a lot of danger," said Altolaguirre.

The Ministry plans to start a complete program to assist deportees, this month, in which they will offer psychological and legal support, in addition to subsidies and assessment to help find employment, but they need 11 million quetzales.
For only 11 million quetzales, less than $1.5 million, you can drastically increase the support system for these migrants and at the very least help integrate them into a society that is not prepared to deal with them. Compare this with the $500 million that Colombia recieves in military aid, some of which goes to fund a batallion whose sole purpose is protecting a multinational petrochemical company. Compare this with the billions that the U.S. is spending on enforcement.

When are people going to start debating the things that really matter in the so-called U.S. "immigration debate"?

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