Why are More People Trying to Cross the Border?
With America’s current politicians, U.S. border security is tighter than it has been in decades. In the spring of 2018, the Trump Administration introduced the zero-tolerance immigration policy to discourage migration into the U.S. The policy required detention of all individuals who crossed the border illegally, with or without children.  This resulted in the separation of children from their parents and their placement in shelters around the country. The U.S., however, halted the policy on June 20, 2018, due to widespread backlash.  The government has been letting thousands of held migrants go free because it lacks enough beds to hold them in detention facilities. However, these implementations have not been successful in deterring people from attempting to illegally enter the country. With the heightened security, why are more people trying to cross the border?

The Decrease in Mexican Immigration

The important thing to note with the changing migration patterns is the demographics of the people. Undocumented immigrants are no longer mainly coming out of Mexico, which is how it has been in the past. In fact, the number of people fleeing Mexico is on the decline.  Since 2007, the number of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. declined by 2 million. They now make up less than half of illegal immigrants in the U.S. This is due partially to the increasing militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and the increase in price for human smugglers, but there are other factors too.

  • The economy in Mexico has improved and Mexican employment opportunities are rising.
  • Fertility rates in Mexico have dropped significantly in the last 60 years, from seven births in 1960 to only 2.1 in 2019.
  • Not only are there fewer immigrants, but the Mexican immigrants that are crossing the border have higher education and are more fluent in English than the U.S. has seen in the past.  Mexico is undergoing a demographic shift and a technological transformation that is making it more habitable for its population.

With the decrease in Mexican immigration due to an increase in Mexico’s living conditions, why are more people trying to cross the border? As Mexico increases opportunities, immigration statistics are shifting to the impoverished Central Americans.

Increase in Central American Immigration

In Central American countries, over half of the population lives below the poverty line. The Northern Triangle of Central America, or NTCA, which includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, has one of the highest homicide rates on earth and many consider this area to have some of the most dangerous countries. America is not the only country seeing a huge influx of these immigrants as well. Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica have seen a 432 percent increase in asylum applications, the majority coming from the NTCA.

Over 90 percent of the new illegal immigrants entering the U.S. is coming out of Guatemala specifically. Why are more people trying to cross the border? It is because of the challenges of poverty and violence in Guatemala.

  • About two-thirds of Guatemalan children live in poverty.
  • Over two-thirds of the indigenous population live in poverty.
  • The wealth distribution in the country is one of the most uneven distributions in the world. In fact, the top 1 percent control 65 percent of the wealth, and the top 5 percent control 85 percent. The economic elite is not indigenous either as most members have European heritage.
  • Guatemalans are itching to flee areas ridden with conflicts over land rights, environmental issues, official forced labor policies, gang violence, prostitution and human trafficking, and depressing crop prices that destroy farmers’ ability to make profits.

What the US is Doing to Help Guatemala

Fortunately, the U.S. is working to help improve conditions in Guatemala.  Traditionally, Guatemala and the U.S. have had a good relationship with a few disagreements over human rights and military issues. Guatemala has a strong trade system in place and the U.S. benefits by working to improve conditions there regarding security, governance, food security, civil rights, education, crime reduction and health service access for the people.

The U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America put in multiple initiatives including the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Central American Regional Security Initiative and Food for Peace. The U.S.’s goal is to spur development in Guatemala and reduce the desire for illegal immigration into the U.S. The Trump Administration proposed to substantially cut funds for the country and to completely eliminate food aid. Congress shot down much of these cuts in the Consolidated Appropriations Acts of 2018 and 2019. However, in March 2019, the Trump Administration did suspend all U.S. military aid in the country when the Guatemalan government misused armored vehicles that the Department of Defense provided to combat drug trafficking. The Trump Administration is still actively trying to cut or eliminate all U.S. aid to Guatemala and the NTCA, but Congress remains actively invested in the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America.

– Gentry Hale
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in El Salvador
El Salvador is the most densely populated nation in Central America, with a population of 6.375 million people and the size of 21,041 kilometers squared. Citizens of El Salvador are impacted by daily petty crimes such as thieft and pickpocketing, as well as more intense gang violence. El Salvador has the fifth-highest murder rate in the world, mainly caused by gang violence. Many gangs also partake in human trafficking, exploiting victims both domestically and abroad. These 10 facts about human trafficking in El Salvador aim to shed light on the main perpetrators, as well as steps taken to combat these abuses.

10 Facts About Human Trafficking in El Salvador

  1. Women, children, and LGBTQ people are at a higher risk of exploitation than men. Traffickers will often exploit El Salvadorans, as well as citizens from neighboring countries such as Nicaragua and Guatemala, who fall into those demographics. Transgender people are particularly at risk for sex trafficking as they are often dehumanized and fetishized in Latin America and other parts of the world.

  2. According to the United States Department of State, El Salvador does not currently meet the bare minimum standards for combating human trafficking. The government has made some small efforts, such as investigating an allegedly complicit government official and providing psychiatric services to female victims. These small efforts demonstrate a willingness to be on the right track, which makes El Salvador a strong candidate for potential growth in combating human trafficking.

  3. Gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha, more commonly known as MS-13, lure women into trafficking by offering them jobs. Women from poor backgrounds are baited and then forced into sex slavery. Experts are weary to pinpoint gangs as the main source for trafficking, as there is evidence of government officials and other people in power who also partake in trafficking whether for sexual or labor purposes.

  4. The Human trafficking network in El Salvador involves a lot of different members from the private sector, including transportation, tourism, media, entertainment and legal industries. Bus drivers, taxi drivers and truck drivers all take part in transporting victims. The media industry is also used to recruit victims by advertising fake jobs in newspapers and on the radio. These advertising methods are usually aimed at the aforementioned demographics, as they are often the most vulnerable in communities.

  5. The public sector is also very much involved in trafficking networks. Often, immigrants, police and other civil servants aid traffickers. Public officials provide false birth certificates and other legal documents. Border enforcement patrols are easily bribed into allowing victims to be trafficked to other countries. Suspects in human trafficking cases are often protected by public officials.

  6. The average age of trafficked victims ranges from between 9 to 15 years old. Teenagers and children are often recruited at school or within their own communities. Traffickers are able to brainwash children because of their young age, making them more malleable. Children are trained to murder, sell drugs or sell their bodies. Girls, in particular, are harassed and forced into relationships with gang members. Children are physically harassed, assaulted, threatened until they have no choice but to join a gang.

  7. Florida is the top destination for trafficked victims from El Salvador. Florida has high demands for human slaves, including both sex and labor slaves. Victims from El Salvador are forced into the commercial sex industry with the demand to make a profit for their traffickers. Victims are threatened to the point that they have no other choice but to comply.

  8. The root of human trafficking is the demand for victims. People are trafficked not because of the needs of human traffickers, but because of the demand of people who will pay for human services. In El Salvador, this manifests itself through a demand for prostitution and stripping. The growth of gang networks and the tourism industry has led to sec trafficking in El Salvador to become a multinational scheme.

  9. Many organizations are working to combat sex trafficking in El Salvador. The Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) started a campaign in 2013 called Tu Voz, which acmes to educate, alert, and support young people who are vulnerable to trafficking. The PADF worked with many other organizations to create the campaign, including MTV Latin America, the Inter-American Development Bank and its youth network (BID Juventud) and the Cinepolis Foundation (largest movie complex franchise in Latin America).

  10. The campaign has been incredibly successful so far, with over 150,000 people reached across 200 awareness events. Also, MTV produced and screened an anti-human trafficking documentary called “Invisible Slaves,” which had a successful impact across youth in danger of trafficking. The campaign also strengthened vulnerable youth to become activists against human trafficking. The success of the campaign demonstrates how empowering awareness and education campaigns can be, in combating some of the biggest villains in El Salvador.

Overall, minorities and women are the most vulnerable to be trafficked. There are many factors involved such as demand and poverty that contribute towards the human trafficking market. These 10 facts about human trafficking in El Salvador aimed to cover some of the reasons for the prominence of human trafficking in the region, as well as steps being taken to combat human trafficking. There has been an increase in effort from the international community, as well as the government of El Salvador to put an end to human trafficking. Education, advocacy and activism can all help to put an end to the atrocities of human trafficking in El Salvador.

– Laura Phillips-Alvarez
Photo: Flickr

violence in el salvador
The Republic of El Salvador is a country in Central America situated between Honduras and Guatemala. It is the smallest and most densely populated coastal country in Central America, with 6.4 million people residing within approximately 8,000 square miles. Here are eight facts about violence in El Salvador.

8 Facts About Violence in El Salvador

  1. From the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, chronic political and economic instability plagued the country. The coalition of socioeconomic inequality and societal unrest culminated in a brutal 12-year civil war. The right-wing military-led government sought to quell the left-wing guerrilla fighters, who had been instigated by a rigged election that saw General Carlos Romero, an anti-communist, take power in 1977. Protests burst throughout El Salvador to express the people’s anger with Romero’s election, and in response, the military slew thousands.
  2. With growing tensions between the government and its people in 1980, civil war broke out when a left-wing military coup deposed Romero. The Revolutionary Government Junta of El Salvador took power and quickly formed a military dictatorship. The Junta began killing peaceful demonstrators, assassinating socialist leaders and even killed archbishop Oscar Romero. The Junta then found allyship in the U.S., which was eager to suppress the possible spread of communism. Nearly $1 billion funneled into the Revolutionary Government Juta, by then-president Ronald Regan.
  3. Throughout the civil war, thousands fled the violence in El Salvador. Many displaced people found their way to Los Angeles, California. In LA, some of the children of the Salvadorian immigrants encountered gangs; this began the development of one of the most violent gangs to populate LA: MS-13. However, in the 1990s, the U.S. began to mass deport criminals from the country, sending LA’s MS-13 problem back to El Salvador. Gang members arrived in a country still wounded from civil war and unstable to its very core. Weak governance and poverty allowed MS-13 to infiltrate, gain power and flourish. As of 2017, an estimated 60,000 active gang members populate El Salvador, outnumbering the 52,000 police and military officers. The gang also found many sympathizers in El Salvador who rely on income from the gang’s activity.
  4. In 2018, the homicide rate in El Salvador was 50.3 per 100,000 people. However, these numbers are dropping and have been for the past three years with 60.8 per 100,000 in 2017 compared to 103 per 100,000 in 2015. This drop is important and shows progression within the country, although it did not move the country away from its ranking as the second deadliest country in the world not engaged in war.
  5. From 2012 to 2013, the murder rate in El Salvador cut in half after MS-13 and the Barrio 18 gangs entered a temporary cease-fire. In 2012, homicides in El Salvador occurred up to 14 times a day. In an attempt at peace, the Catholic Church and the Salvadorian government stepped in to arrange a truce between the two rival gangs. The truce lasted only around a year before the country plunged back into a gang war. However, in April of 2016, another attempt for a truce occurred between the gangs and government, but the government instead decided to intensify its anti-gang efforts and crack down on gang activity within prisons.
  6. Imprisonment of gang members only bolstered the problem of gang violence in El Salvador. By containing gang members within four walls with nothing but time on their hands, El Salvador breathed a new level of organization into gangs. Gangs use prisons not only as a place to plan and to make connections but also to recruit. To protect themselves from violence, new inmates often align themselves with gangs who, in return, ask them to steal, cheat and kill to earn their protection. Then once on the outside, the cycle only continues as honest work is hard to come by for convicts, so they turn back to the gangs.
  7. In the 1990s, the U.S. poured billions of dollars into the Colombian government to fight the country’s drug cartels in an attempt to stop the flow of Colombian cocaine into the U.S. However, the problem merely shifted to Mexico, who reacted with a forceful crackdown on the drug trade within the country. The cartel then moved again, finding a home in El Salvador and other Central American countries. With the gangs’ control, the country quickly fell into the grasp of the Colombian cartels, who recruited gangs to act as drug runners.
  8. Fighting violence by fighting corruption seems to have become the effort of the new Salvadorian government, run by President Nayib Bukele. Bukele is working to solve El Salvador’s gang and crime issues from the inside out. Previous administrations attempted to corral violence through militaristic force. Bukele, however, is focusing on addressing institutional problems that fostered a society that creates and accepts gang members and gang violence. In 2019, he launched mass arrests of gang members, business people, lawyers and police officers who were known to be corrupted or to have committed violent acts. There are also plans to strengthen border security in El Salvador to quell the importing and exporting of drugs.

Violence in El Salvador grew from the culmination of political unrest, poverty and socioeconomic inequality. Shook to its very core by the brutal civil war of the 1980s and 1990s, El Salvador found little time to recover. However, through the work of President Nayib Bukele and organizations like the Integrated Community Development Program run by the Anglican Episcopal Diocese of El Salvador, the country has a chance of getting its self back on track. The Integrated Community Development Program works to bring food security, community-centered economic stability and disaster risk reduction to the Salvadorian people so that they will not have to turn back to the gangs and cartels. The hope is that this will create a country where people can develop and stand on their own and foster a level of stability that El Salvador has lacked for decades.

Emma Hodge

Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

Where is the Northern Triangle?
With a long history of political and economic instability, the Northern Triangle has provided little reason for citizens to stay. Where is the Northern Triangle? This emigration haven lies in Central America and comprises of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Causes of Emigration

In short, the main emigration drivers in the NTCA involve political corruption (due to past wars and ongoing greed), economic instability (due to droughts and poor trade practices), gang violence (related to lack of educational and rehabilitation programs) and family matters (attributed to desired remittance and reunification with distant family).

The NTCA’s past, current and potential (up-for-office) political officials consistently squander the countries’ limited funds for personal advancement at the cost of its people. These authoritarian countries recently switched to democratic rule, but its leaders lack the experience and morale necessary to implement a well-running democracy. Low tax rates and lack of direction prevent subsidization of social, civil, health-related and educational programs and protection agencies vital to the NTCA’s transition to a safe, thriving region.

Since 2014, the U.S.A.’s Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has collaborated with the NTCA to fund over $315 million of specialized programs improving tax administration, youth workforce and public-private markets across Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Efforts from the MCC help the 25 percent of youth who do not work or attend school in these countries. As of 2017, nearly 60 percent of youth who do work do so informally or unregulated by the government.

Crime Management, Informal Work and Gangs

Beyond educational and vocational pitfalls, these countries possess poor crime management. NTCA homicide rates have decreased since 2014, but they remain higher than the global average. The Atlantic Council reports 75 percent of NTCA citizens as doubting their judicial systems’ ability to protect them. This primarily stems from the nearly active gang violence and 95 percent of homicides that go unsolved in these countries. According to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, six children flee to the U.S. per every 10 homicides in the Northern Triangle. This leads to the separation of families and greater difficulty in establishing long-lasting labor practices in these countries.

Informal work is another causal factor of emigration as people search for better financial opportunities. The U.S. is such a major destination for these emigrants, it is no wonder many U.S. Americans might ask “Where is the Northern Triangle?” In fact, in the first five months of FY2019, authorities apprehended about 26,937 Unaccompanied Alien Children (UACs) and 136,150 families at the U.S.-Mexican border, with nearly 47 percent of UACs and 49 percent of families, 25 percent of UACs and 38 percent of families and 11.5 percent of UACs and 9 percent of families coming from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, respectively. These emigrants inadvertently create financial burdens, safety threats and attention deficits in the U.S.

UACs pose a huge threat to U.S. borders because of their use by gang members. U.S. immigration legislation, like Obama’s catch-and-release policy and the Dept. of Health and Human Services’ Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA), allow gangs to get around policies involving UACs. Gangs make about $1,500 per smuggled child in border regions that they control and oftentimes convert UACs into gang members once they settle in U.S. territory. In return, alien-driven crime and the U.S. opioid epidemic continue to implode. Furthermore, transnational government corruption with cartel commerce continues.

According to U.S. Representative Norma J. Torres (D-CA), the State Department gave Congress an incomplete watch-list of criminal Northern Triangle government officials as the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 required. Thus, skepticism surrounds U.S. and NTCA political ties in criminal activity. Overall, government corruption and U.S. immigration policy loopholes remain pressing obstacles to boosting the workforce and prosperity of the Northern Triangle.

US Humanitarian Efforts

Fortunately, many U.S. humanitarian efforts positively impact life in the Northern Triangle. Notably, in the Plan Columbia (PC) of 1999, the U.S. gave Columbia $10 billion for economic and anti-narcoterrorist efforts. In return, Columbia acts as a key trader with the U.S. and a facilitator of progression tactics in NTCA. Similarly, the U.S. derived the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) of 2006 that supports Northern Triangle involvement in commerce and exposure to retail chains.

The U.S. also works with the Inter-American Development Bank to fund a billion-dollar improvement strategy written by the NTCA presidents. Within this strategy, called the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, the three presidents provide strategic pillars and action plans to put outside funds to effective use. Additionally, the U.S. works with Mexican and Northern Triangle governments through the U.S.-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act to improve security at the NTCA-Mexico border.

Outside of government action, several international organizations aid in Central American projects that chip away at NTCA poverty and political issues. Action Aid largely focuses on anti-poverty efforts in the NTCA. Care International, CHF International and Center for International Private Enterprise assist the NTCA with crime reduction and community support, youth education and empowerment and educated civilian political involvement, respectively.

Assistance from humanitarian groups and relationships with American countries help NTCA leaders impose more effective government policies and citizen-focused programs. With expertise and financial aid from more developed countries, the new democratic leaders can grow with the young workforce to build a long-lasting, more-trusting culture in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

In return, a reduction in emigration, the ongoing gang turmoil and behind-the-scenes narco relations can help lead to a more sustainable Northern Triangle. Increased focus on the source of NTCA emigration and continued assistance might alleviate the inquisitive question, “Where is the Northern Triangle?”

– Caroline Bell
Photo: Flickr

El Salvador

The youth in El Salvador, one of the world’s most violent countries, face a lot of obstacles when it comes to getting an education. With the poverty rate at 31 percent and teen pregnancy on the rise, going to school and getting an education in El Salvador is not a simple feat. Avoiding gang violence, affording transportation and supplies, finding employment or valuable training after high school are all challenges that the youth in El Salvador face when it comes to receiving an education.

However, there are several companies and organizations aimed at improving the quality of education in El Salvador. These innovative companies develop programs and projects with the purpose of bettering the lives of the young. These programs help students with job training, English-language learning skills, sex education, brain education and education for students with disabilities.

IBREA and Brain Education

IBREA is a nonprofit organization founded in 2008, aimed at spreading knowledge about the relationship between the brain and body. Ilich Lee, the founder of IBREA believes that through holistic education like meditation, artistic expression and group work, people can achieve peace within themselves and eventually within their communities. IBREA has offered educational programs, seminars and carried out several projects in countries around the world including Liberia, Costa Rica, Sierra Leone and El Salvador.

IBREA began working in El Salvador in 2011 and is currently present in one-fourth of the country’s schools. IBREA has made a notable impact on a school in the district of Distrito Italia. This district is one of many deeply affected by gang violence and poverty in El Salvador. Students, teachers and principals alike have said that since the beginning they have noticed significant improvements in their physical health, stress levels, and motivation in IBREA programs. Other improvements include better peer relations, clarity, decision-making and emotion regulation. The IBREA Foundation is continuing to make strides in El Salvador and Ilich Lee has even received the “Jose Simeon Cañas” award from the previous president of El Salvador Salvador Sánchez Cerén for the positive impact IBREA has had on schools in El Salvador.

FULSAMO and Vocational Training

FULSAMO is a nonprofit organization based in El Salvador aimed at improving the lives and creating opportunities for at-risk youth in El Salvador. Through various programs located in Community Centers throughout El Salvador, FULSAMO works to keep the youth of El Salvador away from gang violence by offering training programs that help them find employment. Currently, FULSAMO has four locations in Soyapango, a municipality in El Salvador.

FULSAMO is currently offering training sessions for work in call centers. The course is six months long, and students are offered help finding relevant employment upon its completion. Unemployment for the youth in El Salvador is nearly 12 percent, but only 7 percent for El Salvador’s general population. Since youth are more at risk for joining gangs, programs like FULSAMO are vital for the betterment of the community. Aside from training opportunities, FULSAMO also offers programs centered on arts, music and leadership.

“Comunidades Inclusivas” for Children with Disabilities

“Comunidades Inclusivas” is a project created by an Education Professor at the University of Maryland. The goal of this project is to make education in El Salvador more accessible to people with disabilities. Through small programs and networks, Comunidades Inclusivas works to have people with disabilities more socially involved in their communities so these connections can be used as a means to more access to education.

In developing nations, it is likely that children living in poverty, who can’t afford supplies such as uniforms, will drop out of school. For children with disabilities who may need more or different resources and supplies than students without disabilities, their likelihood of dropping out is increased. According to the Global Citizen, 90 percent of children living with disabilities are not in school, and 80 percent of people with disabilities, live in developing countries. The El Salvadorian government has made an effort to improve the lives of those living with disabilities and has had previous laws protecting their rights to public transportation and employment in place for decades. In 2018 the El Salvadorian government also passed an act that allowed the Basic Solidarity Pension Fund to apply to people with disabilities.

Through a partnership with International Partners, a nonprofit organization, Comunidades Inclusivas developed “Circulos de Amigos.” This is an initiative that connects people in a community who support and aid people with disabilities. Members of Circulos de Amigos support people with disabilities and their families by providing assistance during home visits, building ramps, and other specific needs. By improving the connection between people with disabilities and their community, Comunidades Inclusivas raises awareness and builds support systems for people with disabilities and their families. This ultimately makes education in El Salvador more of a possibility for people with disabilities.

Sex Education in Centro Escolar

Although teen pregnancy is prevalent in El Salvador, some educators aim to teach their students about sex education despite cultural stigmas. Females between 10 and 19 years old account for one-third of all pregnancies in El Salvador. In Panchimalco, a district south of El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador, educators are taking the risk of teaching sex education, but do it in a way that avoids scrutiny.

Because sex education in El Salvador is sometimes associated with contraceptives and abortion, certain teachers (whose real identities are hidden) in Panchimalco take a different approach when trying to inform students about sex education to avoid ridicule from people in the community. For example, the courses inform students about gender rights and gender equality. This is especially important since the homicide rate for females is 12 for every 100,000 people and over 60 percent of females over the age of 15 have experienced some form of abuse by a male. Sex education courses help students recognize sexual violence, report sexual violence, recognize their rights, and plan for the future.

Although sex education is just in its beginning stages, if it continues, the bravery from teachers will make a difference in student’s lives.

– Desiree Nestor
Photo: Flickr

thenortherntriangle
Many know the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador for their high crime rates and their role in the refugee crisis at the southern border of the U.S. The good news about the Northern Triangle, however, is that crime and murder rates are declining, there has been notable poverty reduction and the economy is growing in the region. The future of the Northern Triangle is not as bleak as news coverage often indicates. These 10 facts provide information on the good news about the Northern Triangle.

10 Pieces of Good News About the Northern Triangle

  1. From 2008 to 2013, educational initiatives in Honduras created 800 new preschools. Additionally, access to education in impoverished communities increased from 36 percent to 50 percent. The educational initiatives also provided training for teachers employed at the new schools.
  2. During the past decade, Guatemala’s agricultural diversity has expanded, and it is now a top regional exporter of green beans, fruit and other types of produce. This has created more prosperity for small farmers.
  3. In El Salvador, economic growth has occurred steadily as well. In 2013, its GDP per capita was $3,516 and its exports were $5.5 billion. Four years later, El Salvador’s GDP per capita was $3,895 and its exports were $5.8 billion.
  4. From 2016 to 2017, the Northern Triangle’s homicide rates fell by 23 percent. Salvadoran murder rates fell by 34 percent and Honduran murder rates fell by 28 percent, with a comparable decline in Guatemala.
  5. Thanks in large part to USAID agricultural programs, the Guatemalan economy added 78,000 new jobs from 2013 to 2017. The new jobs created $160 million and specifically benefited the Western Highlands, a region that is a frequent source of migrants.
  6. From 2011 to 2016, USAID provided assistance to Salvadoran businesses. By 2016, there were 22,000 new jobs in the Salvadoran economy. The higher number of employment opportunities led to higher incomes and provided non-violent alternatives to youth at risk of being involved in gang violence.
  7. Poverty increases rates of illegal migration, but thanks to U.S. assistance, rates of illegal migration from the Northern Triangle were lower in 2017 than they had been since 1971. The three-year U.S. led initiative to reduce illegal migration through development aid was effective.
  8. The Honduran government is taking measures to reform the criminal justice system. In 2011, Honduras introduced a new Comprehensive Coexistence and Security Policy. In 2011, Honduras overhauled its police force, ousting large numbers of officers deemed unfit to serve. The country closed many mismanaged Honduran prisons, showing its commitment to respecting human rights.
  9. A commission formed to investigate corruption in the Honduran government launched its investigations in 2017. Although the investigated officials have made it difficult for the commission to conduct its work, it has continued to exist. The Honduran people and anti-corruption forces within the government continue to support the commission, indicating a commitment to respecting democratic norms. As the country’s economic situation improves, its people feel freer to demand a fair society.
  10. Guatemalan anti-corruption forces have seen unprecedented success. With support from the U.N., the Guatemalan anti-corruption commission was able to successfully conduct cases against multiple corrupt former presidents. In 2015, the commission forced President Molina, who previously engaged in fraud, to resign; he later became imprisoned.

These countries are building new schools and growing crops, while crime rates are falling and they are taking steps to fight corruption. These examples all spell good news for the Northern Triangle. It it is easy to be ignorant of the progress taking place when the media characterizes the Northern Triangle as a place defined merely by poverty and violence. It is also vital for people to note that the good news about the Northern Triangle links to U.S. aid, which funds programs that create new jobs and new opportunities in the region. If this aid continues along with a commitment to progress, then the dream of a brighter future in the Northern Triangle can become a reality.

– Emelie Fippin
Photo: Flickr

climate change in Central America
The effects of climate change are more apparent in some areas than others. Central America is one of these areas with drought, high temperatures and floods contributing to agricultural problems and a rise in migration out of the region and into the U.S. These five facts about climate change in Central America provide a glimpse of how it affects the country and the people who live there.

5 Facts About Climate Change in Central America

  1. Drought: In 2014, climate change in Central America took the shape of a severe drought that plagued the residents of Central America’s dry corridor. In the same year, the U.S. saw an increase in migrants from that region. As the drought persists, high numbers of Central American migrants continue to arrive at the southern border of the U.S., because they cannot sufficiently feed their families. The summer of 2018 included severe drought, and 100,000 Honduran families and two million residents across the Northern Triangle were at risk of malnutrition. The governments of the three Northern Triangle countries entered a state of emergency. The drought was especially destructive to Honduran farmers, many of whom are subsistence farmers living in poverty. Rural Honduran farmers could not easily access the agricultural resources necessary to combat the effects of the drought.
  2. Food Insecurity: In the aftermath of the summer 2018 drought, two million Central Americans were at risk of food insecurity. The region especially suffered from the impact of the 2018 drought as it still had not recovered from droughts that took place from 2014 to 2016. In 2018, Honduras lost 80 percent of its bean and maize crops. Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador lost a total of 281,000 hectares of beans and maize.
  3. The Northern Triangle: Most Central American migrants arriving in the U.S. are from the Northern Triangle. The effects of climate change on the region are becoming increasingly severe. Predictions determine that temperatures there will increase by as much as two degrees by 2050, following increases that have already taken place since 1950. Flooding and prolonged periods of drought accompany the current rise in temperature and will become more severe as temperatures rise. USAID studies predict that some areas of Honduras will see a 60 percent increase in flooding and that Guatemala’s rainfall levels will become dangerously low within the next 10 years. The same studies predict that El Salvador’s coastline will shrink by as much as 28 percent within the next 100 years. One can link the current rise in migration to the effects of climate change in Central America.
  4. Summer 2018 Droughts: The intensity of the summer 2018 droughts can partly explain the size of the 2018 wave of Central American migrants sometimes referred to as the migrant caravan. In rural areas, a lack of irrigation systems made the drought especially disastrous. According to officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, crop failure was a fundamental reason for migration from Central America in 2018. Migrants left Central America to escape poverty and gang violence, but they also left to escape the effects of climate change.
  5. Agricultural Reform: USAID initiatives in Central America emphasize agricultural reform. USAID combats the effects of climate change in Central America by providing farmers with what they need to deal with droughts and floods. Thanks to initiatives like Feed the Future, 98.7 thousand Guatemalan agricultural producers implemented new technology and farming techniques in 2017. In the same year, 45,000 Honduran agricultural producers implemented new technology and farming techniques. Feed the Future also provided Honduran farmers with the resources and training needed to allow for increased crop diversity and animal agriculture. Diversity and reduced reliance on crops like corn and beans are vital to maintaining the region’s agricultural economy in the face of climate change.

Climate change in Central America is already causing serious problems and will continue to do so in the future. On a positive note, USAID and others are cooperating with Central American governments to respond to the changes taking place. Countries in the area are already implementing innovative, agriculture-based solutions. The efforts of aid organizations will continue to be vital as the global climate continues to change.

– Emelie Fippin
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Economic Development in Central America
Central America, which includes Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, is a diverse geographical region housing almost 50 million people. With a wealth of natural resources, Central America has the potential for sustainable and rigorous economic growth as it seeks to mitigate political unrest and economic inequality. Within this context, here are 10 facts about economic development in Central America.

10 Facts About Economic Development in Central America

  1. Central America is an Agricultural Powerhouse: The backbone of Central America’s economy relies on agricultural exports, such as coffee, bananas and pineapples. For example, agriculture comprises 24 percent of Costa Rica’s total GDP and 17 percent of Panama’s total GDP. In 2001, agriculture employed approximately 34 percent of Honduras.
  2. Central America’s Growing Tourism Industry: Belize and El Salvador contribute to Central America’s robust tourism industry. In Belize, tourism is the most important economic sector in the country next to agriculture. In 2017, El Salvador reported a 23.2 percent annual growth rate from domestic tourism. El Salvador expects to generate $75.5 million from its tourism industry in 2019.
  3. Severe Weather and Foreign Aid: In the wake of Hurricane Nate, Costa Rica alone reported $562 million in damages, severely crippling its agricultural and transportation industries. In response, USAID provided $150,000 to support immediate humanitarian efforts. More recently, in 2018, El Fuego erupted in Guatemala affecting approximately 1.7 million people. World Vision, a non-profit organization, responded by sending 30,000 boxes of medical supplies to affected regions.
  4. Tepid Economic Growth: One of the key 10 facts about economic development in Central America that informs policy-making is an analysis of GDP growth and poverty rates. As a whole, Central America has an average poverty rate of 34.2 percent. Guatemala has the highest rate of 59 percent as of 2014. Mitigating these poverty rates is difficult since GDP growth has slowly decelerated in many Central American countries. In the case of Honduras, declining prices for agricultural exports have left its main industries struggling. People expect Honduras’ GDP to grow with the decline in poverty. The nation’s poverty rate came down to 3.6 percent in 2019, from 4.8 percent in 2017.
  5. Political Uncertainty and Economic Expectations: Since 2018, many Nicaraguans protested the political oppression of their president, Daniel Ortega. They believe he is tamping out political opposition from human rights groups and using the poor to maintain political power. This recent political upheaval has alarmed investors, who have withdrawn an estimated $634 million according to Bloomberg. In this tumultuous climate, the International Monetary Fund believes Nicaragua’s economy could spiral into recession with unemployment climbing to 10 percent.
  6. Underinvestment in Infrastructure: Due to extreme weather and political upheaval, Central America often lacks the infrastructure to mobilize its economy. Central American countries spend only around two percent of their total GDP on transportation and infrastructure. Panama is a testament to the benefits of investing in infrastructure. The revenue generated from the Cobre Panama mine and the Panama canal gave the nation an average GDP growth rate of 5.6 percent over the past five years.
  7. Maintaining Trade Agreements: One way Central American countries have greatly benefited in terms of economic development is through maintaining trade agreements like CAFTA (Central America Free Trade Agreement). Between 2006 and 2016, Central America’s total trade with the U.S. increased by 17 percent and with the world, 20 percent.
  8. Grassroots Technology and Collaboration: Grassroots organizations have achieved economic success. For example, The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) partnered with Nicaragua and Peru to promote agricultural productivity in its host country of Colombia. The CIAT has 51 active projects in Central America and 15 projects currently in Nicaragua. Such projects include investments in innovative technology that would make the rural family’s crops more resilient and more abundant.
  9. The Future is Technical: Costa Rica has successfully created a robust medical-device manufacturing industry dating back to 1987. It now generates $4 billion in exports for the country. Even more surprising, in 2017, medical device exports surpassed agricultural products for the first time in the nation’s history. Costa Rica boasts quality human resources and manufacturing and houses 96 operating firms in the medical device manufacturing sector.
  10. The Exemplary Success of Panama: Many expect Panama’s GDP to grow at six percent compared to 3.6 percent in 2018 and the country has cut its poverty rate from 15.4 percent to 14.1 percent. Panama’s performance comes from investing in industries like mining, transportation and logistics. In order to continue to compete in the global economy, Panama must continue to invest in education. One initiative in the U.S. that is investing in education in Panama is the Environmental Education Through the Transformation of Schools into Eco-friendly and Sustainable Schools program at Johns Hopkins University. Its goal is to educate Panama’s students on how to make their public school system more environmentally friendly.

Central America has positioned itself well for future economic prosperity based on this brief analysis of 10 facts about economic development in Central America. In order to accelerate Central America’s path of economic growth, World Vision has run a program in Guatemala since the 1970s that provides sponsorships, education, health and protective rights to children. Other organizations, like CIAT, have more than 60 programs in the Central American regions.

– Luke Kwong
Photo: Flickr

United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act
On July 15, 2019, the United States House of Representatives unanimously passed the United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act. The bill, announced by New York Representative Eliot L. Engel and Texas Representative Michael McCaul, seeks to provide greater safety and security for the Northern Triangle countries. The highest volume of immigrants from South America come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. It is the hope of the United States Congress that increasing aid and promoting a stronger economy and sense of security in these nations will address the root causes of the current migration crisis. This bipartisan legislation outlines several ways the United States may assist the Northern Triangle nations.

Details About The Bill

Firstly, the bill details a five-year program which focuses on economic development, the strengthening of democratic institutions and anti-corruption efforts. Because the insecurity of these countries’ economies is driving so many to seek refuge in foreign nations, enhancing market-based internal solutions for Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala is a priority of this plan. Furthermore, it will implement institutions and programs that will allow these places to remain resilient in the wake of frequent natural disasters.

In order to support the integrity of the democratic institutions of the Northern Triangle, this bill intends to provide support to ensure free, fair elections and the continuation of an independent media. This measure is to prevent the spread of political propaganda and to make the democratic process accessible to all.

This bill includes many measures to support and fund anti-corruption efforts, which is so important when so many migrants from these countries are leaving to escape the prevalent gang violence. It provides support for such efforts as faith-based organizations for at-risk youth. Many young people have no choice but to engage in violent gang activities in order to protect themselves or their families.

Funding From The United States

The United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act is allotting $577 million dollars in monetary aid to these three countries for the 2020 fiscal year but includes strong conditions as to how the countries must use the funding.

The bill also includes measures to protect the safety of not only those native to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador but also the many American people who have concerns regarding immigration into the United States. The act calls for visa bans and asset freezes for corrupt individuals in an effort to halt some of the corruption in government and drug trafficking which are making these nations unsafe.

This bipartisan legislation will also provide increased support for development efforts in southern Mexico. The hope is that there will be more peaceful relations between Mexico and the Northern Triangle nations to diminish some of the reasons for the mass exodus from these countries.

Lastly, Congress has mandated that the State Department and USAID provide reports regarding the root causes of migration in the Northern Triangle countries after the implementation of the United States’ aid. The bill mentions some of the root causes including drug trafficking, human trafficking, extortion, corruption, gender-based violence, gang activities and the forcible recruitment of children into gang activities. These reports will allow Congress to determine how aid from the United States and the implementation of social services has altered the social and political climate of the Northern Triangle.

A Promising Victory

With so much ever-heightening concern regarding the immigration crisis, the unanimous, bipartisan passing of the United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act, which the Borgen Project supports, is a victory for the current state of poverty amongst immigrants. If this bill officially becomes law, it is the hope of Congress that the United States’ assistance and aid to the Northern Triangle countries will target the many causes of immigration and allow people to remain in their homes with a sense of security.

– Gina Beviglia
Photo: Flickr

why are more people crossing the border
In early 2019, Congress approved a humanitarian aid plan for migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Nevertheless, the political crisis of migrant treatment and their arrival to the U.S. continues. In February 2019, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to obtain funding for his planned border wall. He has repeatedly called the situation at the U.S. border an invasion. The question remains: why are more people crossing the border?

People should note, however, that the number of border apprehensions dropped by 28 percent in the course of a month. The number decreased from the apprehension of an estimated 120,000 plus people in May 2019 to an estimated 80,000 plus people in June 2019.

In the past, most of the undocumented immigrants found in the U.S. southern border were single men from Mexico. Recently, most immigrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border are families coming from countries in Central America’s Northern Triangle, namely Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. These countries have severe instabilities. The number of people from these three nations applying for asylum around the world has increased seven-fold since 2010.

High Murder Rates in the Northern Triangle

High murder rates are a reason why more people have been leaving the Northern Triangle. Murder rates in the area have been considerably higher than in other areas, like the U.S. or Europe. These numbers peak at approximately 108.6 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in El Salvador and 63.8 in Honduras. Residents of Honduras also face extortion as criminals may kill them if they do not pay a war tax.

Many families try to seek asylum in Mexico to escape these murders. Nevertheless, the number of migrants at the Mexican border tell a similar story to that of the U.S. border. The number of deportations from Mexico back to the Northern Triangle has considerably increased between 2014 and 2015.

Poverty and Migration

Another reason for the rise in migrants at the southern border in recent years has been economic imperatives. Most recent migrants hail from impoverished regions such as the western highlands of Guatemala, in search of a life better suited to raising a family.

Everyday life in the area beckons land rights conflicts, environmental instabilities and depressed prices for their crop, which undermines the ability of citizens to make a living for their family. Nearly 70 percent of Honduras’ population lives in poverty. In Guatemala, nearly 60 percent live in poverty.

Gangs and Drug Cartels

In the Northern Triangle, drug cartels and gangs are a part of everyday life and threaten national and personal security. Violent groups often impose informal curfews, make absurd tax demands and recruit youth against their will. After the fight between in Mexican government and former drug boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, many other groups moved into the drug trade, leading to the killings of many innocent people in the country. In 2018, the number of people who made claims of credible fear and asked for asylum at the U.S. border skyrocketed to 92,000, compared to 55,000 claims in 2017.

Thousands of immigrants are facing the impossible choice of living in constant fear or seeking asylum, risking the possibility of detainment for indefinite periods or deportation back to their home nations where they risk a violent death.

No More Deaths

Illegal border crossing should not be a death sentence. No More Deaths, or No Más Muertes, is a humanitarian organization based in southern Arizona that is dedicated to stepping up efforts to stop migrant deaths in the desert. The organization works in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands through the civil initiative.

It is crucial for every American citizen to realize that migrants are not entering the United States because they want to, but because they have to. Entering the detention centers at the southern border comes after a perilous journey. Migrants ride trains where gang members demand tolls of upwards of $100 per station. Gang members kidnap more than 20,000 migrants in these situations.

Action is imperative to help people crossing the border as countless lives depend on it. Nevertheless, it is possible for individuals to help. Individuals can volunteer with organizations such as No More Deaths to provide food, advocacy and mapping efforts. They can also use their voice and email Congress through The Borgen Project’s website. Lastly, it is important for all citizens to educate themselves about migrants, their treatment in detention centers and why more people are crossing the border, even when circumstances seem dire.

– Monique Santoso
Photo: Flickr