Blog post

When is our terror enough?

Natascha Uhlmann 4 February 2016

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The Obama administration has ramped up deportation proceedings targeting the steadily increasing stream of Central American migrants. The Administration’s policy has been a flashpoint, with Obama hailed Deporter-in-Chief amidst calls for greater border security on the right.  A look towards the roots of increased migration reveals a history of US intervention that has devastated the region generations onwards.

Oscar Martinez traces a long history of US support for dictatorial regimes in the region. He shows a people still reeling from a proxy war that has claimed over 200,000 lives, with countless others missing or displaced. Further compounding a volatile situation, mass deportation of known gang members amplifies the violence that has left Central American families little choice but to flee:

But these gangs – La Mara Salvatrucha, Barrio 18, Mirada Lokotes 13 – weren’t born in Guatemala or Honduras or El Salvador. They came from the United States, Southern California to be precise. They began with migrants fleeing a US-sponsored war. And, in fleeing, some of these young men found themselves living in an ecosystem of gangs already established in California. And so they came together to defend themselves, and they established a name, and now this name is what we call our fear: Mara Salvatrucha, Barrio 18.

The violence defies comprehension: In 2012, Honduras saw 90 murders per 100,000 people (the United Nations deems 10 murders per 100,000 an epidemic). Gangs target children as young as 8 years old for recruitment, as they are less subject to police scrutiny. Turning down the offer means certain death – so when a child is targeted, families flee.

Despite this staggering wave of violence, policymakers are loath to employ the term refugee to the Latin American crisis. A look towards Mexico illustrates the weighty implications of such hesitance: despite a wartime civilian death toll of over 160,000, the US approves only 35-190 asylum applications from Mexico each year. Meanwhile, at least 83 Central Americans have been killed shortly following their deportation in the past year. At what point is the violence credible enough to deem one a refugee? 

The US must come to terms with its disastrous role in the still-developing refugee crisis. Short of a radical overhaul of immigration policy, we will continue to leave the most helpless at the mercy of the very cartels we created. 

Filed under: latin-america, mexico