AThe United States is facing a migration crisis on its southern border. Unfortunately, media images taken from ICE immigration detention facilities have been heartbreaking. Most of these migrants have come not from Mexico, however, but from the so-called “Northern Triangle”–El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

The reasons for this migration, which has persisted through the Trump administration until now, is more than just economic, although economics is certainly a factor. In addition to poverty, official corruption and violence are driving the citizens of these countries north towards the US border. In 2020 El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala ranked 1st, 4th, and 14th in the world, respectively, in terms of the national murder rate.

It doesn’t get any better when these migrants travel north, either. Tijuana and Juarez, both located just south of the US/Mexico border, rank 1 and 2 in the world, respectively, in terms of city murder rates. Meanwhile, human smugglers and drug cartels often prey upon vulnerable migrants. The fact that these conditions have failed to deter Northern Triangle migrants goes to show how difficult life is for the people who live in those countries.

In Search of a Long-Term Solution

President Biden has pledged to seek a long-term solution to the migration crisis by helping the Northern Triangle countries deal with the root causes of immigration. Biden’s US CItizenship Act of 2021 contains some measures designed to relieve the migrant crisis.

Biden´s immigration bill includes a provision for $4 billion to be allocated over four years to fight poverty, crime, and corruption in the Northern Triangle. The bill, along with other initiatives favored by the Biden administration, would:

  • Establish Designated Processing Centers throughout Northern Triangle countries where intending immigrants could seek refugee resettlement in the United States. One of the primary purposes of establishing these centers in Northern Triangle countries is to discourage migrants from undertaking the incredibly dangerous journey to the US border.
  • Re-establish the Central American Minors Program to allow for the reunification of children with parents who are already residing in the United States.
  • Help Northern Triangle countries reduce crime through enhanced security and enforcement measures. Unfortunately, this is a long-term solution whose effects may not be fully felt for decades.
  • Investing into the economies of Northern Triangle countries. In 2018, for example, the US invested $5.8 billion into the region.

The Path Forward

Ultimately, however, the foregoing measures are only the tip of the iceberg compared to the sustained initiatives that are likely to prove necessary in the long run. Some of the possible future measures that need to be undertaken include:

  • Partnering with Mexico to invest money and know-how into the region. The US and Mexico have a common interest in stemming the flow of migrants.
  • Targeting aid and investment to the individual needs of each country.
  • Engaging with the private sector in Northern Triangle countries to create jobs.
  • Working with the governments of Northern Triangle countries to root out official corruption.

There is a reason for hope. Homicide rates, for example, have fallen steadily in El Salvador and Honduras in recent years. Nevertheless, so far it is not enough. The Covid-19 crisis battered the region throughout 2020, while hurricanes devastated parts of Honduras and Guatemala leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

What It’s Going to Take

There are no easy answers to the Northern Triangle migration crisis. What has already become certain, however, is that nothing will ultimately be solved by simply building more walls. Ultimately the US is going to need to build a Central American policy grounded in human rights, long-term solutions, and reasonably flexible immigration policies.

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