Central American Towns Empty as Migrants Rush to U.S. Border Loopholes

Tuesday, May 21, 2019
By Paul Martin

20 May 2019

Guatemala’s towns are emptying out as a growing number of migrants head north to accept the Democratic Party’s offer of open-border loopholes and low-wage jobs, say a growing number of local reports.

Roughly one percent of Guatemala’s population has migrated to the United States’ border since September 2018, according to the Department of Homeland Security. That adds up to roughly 170,000 migrants, and roughly one-third of those migrants come from the neighboring rural districts of Huehuetenango and San Marcos.

The result of this U.S. government policies is that many villages are with empty homes, fatherless families, absent men, and minimal investment. The Wall Street Journal reported:

COLOTENANGO, Guatemala—Gloria Velásquez is used to saying goodbye. Four of her six siblings have migrated to the U.S. and she, too, is thinking about heading north with her 9-year-old daughter.

Ms. Velásquez said her four siblings in the U.S. are encouraging her to join them. Her daughter Helen Ixchel likes to teach language and mathematics to fellow children. She wants to learn English and become a teacher.

“I’m a bit scared [about going to the U.S.] after hearing all the news about the suffering of migrants at the border. But it’s my daughter’s greatest dream,” Ms. Velásquez said.

This massive loss of young people minimizes opposition to the country’s weak government and deters foreign investment in the nation. Without the promise of foreign investment and new jobs in the nation’s main cities, the next cohort of young men rationally look north for jobs.

“Santa Rosa fits the DHS statistics perfectly,” says a May 17 report from Sara Carter. Under the headline “Guatemalan Ghost Towns,” Carter wrote:

After a nearly two-hour ride up a windy mountain road from the capital the sound of salsa music greeted our SUV as it pulled along side one of the main roads. The music wafted from a small make-shift cafe that was empty of both customers and workers.
No cars. Few people. Two dogs. It was for the most part a ghost town.

“I can say roughly 60 percent of this town is gone,” said Jose Manuel, who had spent his day sitting along side the curb in front of furniture repair shop.

Many more migrants are preparing to travel through Mexico to accept the Democrats’ invitation of legal loopholes in the border fence. A recent survey by U.S. and Guatemalans shows that roughly one million Guatemalans — plus many of their children — want to make the trip soon.

“Entire communities are losing their children — and their future — to migration,” said a report from the non-profit Pulitzer Center. The report delicately dances around the reality that progressive Democrats and judges offer the catch-and-release loopholes to the migrants who bring their children. So many migrants bring their children and working-age youths on the dangerous trip to the border:

HUHUETENANGO, Guatemala — Amidst the chaos of third-graders getting ready for recess, a small empty desk stands out. The child who used to sit there is gone, having left for the United States with his father.

In another classroom, four girls work together to fix their costume for the school’s carnival. The rest of their ninth-grade class has dropped out — some to go to the U.S., others because their families couldn’t afford school any longer.

In a neighboring town, a teacher gardens to empower young women after the village’s only secondary program closed due to a lack of students.

some of these villages are losing their future as the younger generation heads north. Many of those who stay behind face a heavier workload — they need to care for younger siblings and tend house while their mothers work in the fields or fetch wood, tasks that typically belonged to their husbands.

Successful migrants frequently display their success by using wages from U.S. jobs to build U.S.-style houses in the home village. The status display pressures other locals to make the journey. According to a 2017 report by Citylab.com:

The hybrid dwellings aren’t even necessarily designed to be lived in. Sometimes, “the house is like a trophy to show to the rest of the village,” Aragón says, proof that a son, daughter, husband, or wife is succeeding in America. The building may sit empty, Aragón adds, while the family members remain in their more traditional homes—or else family life is clustered in just a few rooms of the new house, leaving the rest barren. Families may imagine the prodigal son or daughter returning one day to settle in, a hometown hero acclimating to a landscape that bears shifting resemblances to both places he left, Aragón says. “It’s very tender,” she adds. While some do come back, many—particularly those who entered America undocumented—don’t return.

The pressure to migrate is boosted by cellphones, which allow migrants who walk through the catch-and-release loopholes into the United States job market to display their new wealth to the young men and women whom they left behind. Daniel Reichman, an associate professor and chair of anthropology at the University of Rochester, reported:

People in even the most remote corners of Central America now have phones and internet devices, allowing them to communicate with their relatives abroad to facilitate the migration process. This was simply impossible before the cell phone. Technology makes the world smaller, and it makes migration a more viable option than it was in the past. Borders can’t contain technology, and people now evaluate their circumstances in Central America against what they imagine they will encounter in the United States.

The combination of domestic poverty and relative U.S. wealth is exacerbated by the many migrants who never reach jobs in the United States, even after they mortgage their homes to cartel-affiliated lenders. These domestic economic disasters are leaving a growing number of failed migrants without their farms, homes, or assets, which are now owned by cartel lenders and coyotes.

In 2014, Elias López hired a smuggler to help him and a friend get into the United States. His friend died of thirst when the smuggler abandoned them south of the border, and López was quickly deported, leaving him deeply in debt, according to an April article in the New Yorker.

Once López returned to Guatemala, the idea of trying to make the trip again horrified him. “I could still see my [dead] friend’s face,” he said. But there was still the issue of mounting payments on his loan. The prospect that compelled his first trip—finding work and getting paid in U.S. dollars—now seemed even more urgent with his family’s land hanging in the balance. Last year, he decided to use a different smuggler and to try to enter the U.S. through Arizona. “This time I went to a bank, and I told them I needed a loan to start a business,” he said. His uncle had agreed to serve as a reference, and the bank eventually extended López a loan of eighty-five thousand quetzales, at a standard rate of interest. As collateral, he put up his family’s house, knowing that if he fell behind in his bank payments, they would be homeless. In November, López tried to cross the border for the second time, but he was again apprehended. He now owes the bank one hundred and fifty thousand quetzales, or about nineteen thousand five hundred dollars.

But the debts cannot be repaid with Guatemala’s low wages. So many of the deported migrants borrow more money to make another effort to sneak into the U.S. job market:

“Tens of thousands of Guatemalans assume debt every year,” Aracely Martínez, an immigration expert at the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, told me. “It’s common throughout the entire country, especially if someone doesn’t have a lot of financial support from their family, or if they don’t have friends in the United States.” Some, like López, never make it to the U.S., but others who do are often deported later, before they have enough time to pay down their loans, which usually takes between six months and a year of steady work in the U.S. For those who are apprehended, there’s an additional problem: prolonged detention means months of inactivity in which the interest on a person’s loan continues to run. Evictions have grown increasingly common in some areas where debts have become unpayable. “I have three relatives who have been kicked out,” a father and former migrant told two American researchers in an article published last year in the journal Antipode. “Now they’re living with other people … That’s why many people after their second deportation keep on trying.”

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