Two years ago, tens of thousands of Central American migrants—mostly minors and family units—flooded the US border with Mexico to such a degree that the Obama administration labeled the influx a “humanitarian crisis.” According to Customs and Border Protection data, over 130,000 were apprehended.
US Border Patrol stations, processing centers, and shelters were quickly overwhelmed, and the Department of Health and Human Services had to step in to manage care for thousands of unaccompanied minors. The US government learned a difficult lesson in the summer of 2014 as a result and took several measures to prevent this crisis from happening again. However, border migrant apprehension and processing statistics for 2016 show that the numbers could be even higher by the end of this fiscal year.
The Northern Triangle
One of the largest controversies that emerged from the 2014 border was the underlying reason for the vast northbound migration. As in 2014, the majority of immigrants being apprehended at the southwest border in fiscal year 2016 are from the three countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, also known as the “Northern Triangle.” Immigrants from Central America have been crossing the Southwest border for many years; however, only in 2012 did they overtake Mexican immigrants as the largest demographic of people being apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol agents.
Obama Administration’s Immigration ‘Passes’
A major part of the narrative during this time was that these immigrants have been living in very poor economic conditions with few opportunities for education or employment for decades. Why would they all of a sudden head North to the US in such large numbers? Proponents of tougher immigration controls argued that the Obama administration was virtually inviting immigrants to come to the US by providing them with permisos, or passes, during immigration proceedings that would allow them to stay in the country legally for many years.
While this wasn’t entirely true, many immigrants who were not deemed a threat to national security were simply told to return for a hearing, which due to the backlog of immigration cases likely wouldn’t be for three to five years. The rumors about lax US immigration policies and procedures regarding Central American children and families was soon known as the “pull factor.” While gang violence and murderers spurred on by drug trafficking activity are nothing new to Mexico or Central America in general, the levels of violence have definitely been increasing in recent years. This was the “push factor.” However, the key change to northbound migration patterns has occurred as a result of the deeper involvement of Mexican cartels and the smugglers they employ in the human smuggling trade. There are very few human smugglers who operate independently of a drug cartel, and they pay a large percentage of their income from immigrants to their cartel bosses. Human smuggling in Mexico has become so lucrative that cartels are using propaganda and aiding in the spread of rumors to encourage Central American migrants to hire their smugglers and bring them north.
Read the complete report here.
Sylvia Longmire is also a Senior Contributing Editor for Homeland Security Today.