26 November 2018

In her recent Foreign Affairs article, The Migration DisconnectStephanie Leutert, Director of the Strauss Center’s Mexico Security Initiative, attempts to answer the question of why Central American migrants keep coming despite the issue receiving years of high-level attention and billions of dollars.

She begins the article arguing that large scale migration is not a new phenomenon, despite what media coverage suggests. Leutert also highlight that people leave their homes for many reasons: to improve their fortunes, reunite with their families, flee from criminal violence or restart their lives after natural disasters. In Central American cities, gangs pose the biggest threat to migrants; they harass kids, fight each other, and extort small businesses. The people who refuse to comply with the gangs face the difficult decision to stay, and risk being killed, or flee their homes. In rural areas, economic hardship is the biggest factor which drives migration. 

Leutert lays out some policy solutions which would address the root causes for migration. She suggests that a commodity stabilization program for coffee would decrease the number of people forced to flee for economic reasons. She also suggests some regional public work programs and public irrigation infrastructure projects could address some of the core problems facing migrants. Leutert also states that the United States should initiate guest worker programs for Central Americans and reinstate the program for youth to apply for asylum in their own countries. She says that U.S. policy can only do so much but “providing short-term economic relief to areas in crisis, continuing long-term investment in the region’s future, and expanding the legal pathways to asylum would go a long way toward reducing immigration pressure.” There is no single fix, but if changes aren’t made migrants will continue to come to the US.