Nearly half of Central Americans want to emigrate. What can the United States do?
Central Americans experiencing food insecurity were more likely to make concrete plans to migrate to the United States Can we do something? Picture: Simone / Adobe Stock.

The crisis on the southern border is intensifying. In fact, according to a new report, it may reach unprecedented levels. The influx of Central American immigrants could increase as the pandemic continues to hit the continent. Is there anything the United States can do?

The current situation is worrying. The U.S. Border Patrol reported more than 1.6 million encounters with migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border in the 2021 fiscal year, more than four times the previous fiscal year and the highest annual total ever recorded, according to an analysis by Pew.

This might take a worrying turn in the coming days as the White House is expected to restart, by court order, the “Remain in Mexico” program. This program, which was created by Donald Trump, imposes various restrictions on immigrants (including asylum seekers), who must stay in Mexico while they await their immigration court dates in the U.S., even if they are not of Mexican origin.

Activists fear a humanitarian crisis of great proportions as this influx of immigrants may grow, according to a new survey by the Migration Policy Institute.

More Central Americans want to migrate

After consulting 5,000 families from 12 Departments (regions) in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the Migration Policy Institute found that Central Americans’ desire to migrate to other countries is increasing.

In 2021, about half of those surveyed (43%) expressed a desire to permanently migrate to another country within a year, compared to 8% who said the same in 2019.

In any case, it should be noted that fewer than one in ten households (6%) reported making plans to do so. An even smaller percentage (3%) said they were making concrete preparations to migrate.

What causes this desire to migrate?

People experiencing food insecurity were more likely (23%) to make concrete plans to migrate compared to those not experiencing food insecurity (7%), according to the Migration Policy Institute survey published in November.

In addition to violence, safety concerns, and natural disasters, the main reasons that respondents want to emigrate are related to economic factors such as low wages, unemployment, and insufficient income.

United States, China, and Latin America

In the absence of U.S. leadership and investment in Latin America and the Caribbean, over the last two decades, China has progressively expanded its influence in the region. It has done this on various economic fronts; including investments in infrastructure, technology, and tourism development; as well as numerous actions related to COVID-19 such as facilitating access to their vaccines: CanSino, Sinopharm, and Sinovac.

China has become one of the main trade and export partners of Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2019, Chinese companies invested $12.8 billion in the region, 16.5% more than in 2018.

The Trump administration profoundly damaged the United States’ relationship with the rest of the continent. Now Biden has an opportunity.

It is time for the U.S. to re-invest in Latin America and the Caribbean. This benefits the continent from every point of view. It is essential to regain strategic leadership in the region.

If China can profit commercially from this relationship, why shouldn’t the United States?

In addition, the best way to slow down the flow of migrants is to stop it before it happens. Sustainable economic development with investment programs, trade, manufacturing, and job creation can help reduce the conditions that encourage Central Americans' migration.

Periodista, editor, asesor, y presentador. De 2016 a 2019 el periodista más galardonado en Estados Unidos por los Premios José Martí. Autor del best seller: ¿Cómo leer a las personas?