The migrants' dilemma refugee crisis in the americas

High levels of crime and violence in Mexico and the Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are fuelling a refugee crisis as migrants seek a safe haven in the United States or, eventually, Canada by means of a route strewn with dangers and a high likelihood of forced return.

“The UN Refugee Agency today called for urgent action to help hundreds of people fleeing violence in Central America that has surged to levels not seen since the region was wracked by armed conflicts in the 1980s.” UNHCR

Drivers of migration

  1. Crime: drugs, gangs, violence
  2. Economic deprivation, especially in rural areas
  3. Lawlessness and corruption of officials
  4. Family in the United States or Canada

Homicide rates per 100,000

UNODC; Insight Crime

How do migrants make the journey?

La Bestia: As many as half a million Central American immigrants annually hop aboard freight trains colloquially known as “La Bestia,” or the beast, on their journey to the United States. The cargo trains, which run along multiple lines, carry products north for export. As there are no passenger railcars, migrants must ride atop the moving trains, facing physical dangers that range from amputation to death if they fall or are pushed. Beyond the dangers of the trains themselves, Central American migrants are subject to extortion and violence at the hands of the gangs and organized-crime groups that control the routes north. From Migration Policy Institute. Photo: Associated Press

Coyotes: The terms “human smuggler” or “coyote” are used to describe people who move migrants illegally across borders. Coyote fees, which are the fees charged by coyotes for their services, are a measure of the extent of people’s desire to migrate. From Open Borders Photo: Molli Nickell

Bribes: Corruption among officials, including police, remains high in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Corrupt officials can, for instance, produce false documents, turn a blind eye to human smuggling, or shield employers of unauthorized immigrants. From Photo: Associated Press

Bus: Many migrants elect to travel across Central America to Mexico by bus. Mexican security, customs, and migration agencies employ numerous roadblocks and checkpoints to search for undocumented migrants. Private vehicles and first-class buses often get waved through these checkpoints, but that is far from guaranteed. Police and soldiers do not enforce migration law and are not supposed to inquire about travellers’ immigration status, but occasionally do so at the checkpoints they maintain. A large portion of the Central American migrants whom Mexico deports are caught while traveling in vans and buses on the roads. From Photo: Associated Press

By Sea:The movement by sea of Central American migrants to Mexico (along the coast of Chiapas and Oaxaca) is not as large as the migration of people from the Middle East and Africa traveling on the Mediterranean, but it can be just as deadly. From the Guardian Photo: Chacatorex

Walk: And many migrants simply walk. Photo: Getty Images

Dangers on the journey

"Undocumented migrants make perfect victims. Fearful of authorities, they are highly unlikely to report even violent crimes, such as robbery or rape." Mary Speck, Former Senior Analyst, Mexico
  1. Organized crime rings that target women and children for sexual abuse and violence, and extort protection fees.
  2. Corrupt government officials
  3. Human traffickers and kidnappers
  4. Vigilantes
  5. Wild animals and harsh environments
  6. The ever-present threat of apprehension, detention, and deportation

Unaccompanied Minors (UAMs): Children under 17 travelling without a family member or guardian.

  • In fiscal year (FY) 2013, the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 38,759 UAMs.
  • In FY 2014, the number rose to 68,541.
  • Most of the youth were from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
  • The Obama administration characterized the situation as a "humanitarian crisis." From U.S. Customs and Border Protection Photo: Vox

U.S. Southwest Border Patrol Apprehensions

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Detentions: The United States has the world's largest immigrant detention system. Following apprehension or arrest, people may be detained pending removal proceedings and/or following a deportation order. The use of family detention expanded significantly in 2014 following the UAM/family unit migration crisis. Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Deaths at Southwest Border

U.S. Deportations

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

U.S.-Mexico Border Wall

  • 1,046 km: Distance already fenced
  • 2,012 km: Distance left to seal
  • $21.6-billion: Estimated cost of wall (not including cost of patrol officers, cameras, aerial surveillance, radar, heat and motion detectors)

Do walls work?

Walls are a rudimentary and temporary way to slow the movement of people. By themselves they are ineffective; their primary function is to make crossing the border more difficult, buying time for patrol agents to identify and apprehend those who would cross. There is a human cost: walls are correlated with more deaths at borders because they redirect people to more dangerous points of access. Photo: flickr

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