This Friday, presidents of the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras will meet with President Barack Obama in Washington DC to deal with the crisis of unaccompanied minors arriving in the U.S. from Central America.
Migration between these countries is not new, and has been high on the multilateral agenda for years. The U.S., Mexico and Central America share not only geographic proximity, but historical, social, political, economic, and cultural ties.
The non-authorized flow of adults and children between Central America, Mexico and the U.S. continues to alarm all sides, with over 347,000 nationals from Mexico and Central America removed from the U.S. in FY 2013 alone, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This comprised about 94 percent of all U.S. deportations in 2013—but does not account for the high numbers of Central American migrants removed from Mexico.
Yet it is the recent spike of minors attempting to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border from Mexico and the Northern Triangle—from 19,418 children in FY 2009 to 56,547 in FY 2014—that opened a major inquiry into the recurring immigration crisis, prompting quick political responses and visits between U.S., Mexican and Central American officials.All of the countries and citizens involved are frustrated by the failure to address the root causes of the crisis: limited economic growth and job opportunities, misinformation and fraud, weak infrastructure, security concerns, government inefficiency, and the scarcity of ways to travel legally between countries. Each of the Northern Triangle countries have different realities and demographics, reasons for their citizens to migrate, and government effectiveness—but in all countries, migration and deportations are further straining institutions and resources.
The causes of the high flows of migrants in the region, specifically minors, are complex and cannot be resolved unilaterally. Minors are migrating from a variety of backgrounds and for various reasons, but mainly due to poor socio-economic conditions, a desire to reunite with family, and in some cases, because of violence and fraud. With Central American countries agreeing to free transit via The Central American Integration System (SICA)—but required to enforce their laws and sovereignty and prevent unauthorized entry, commerce, and other illicit activities—the issue has a number of transnational layers to consider.
In the U.S., immigration is a highly sensitive internal political issue that has deeply divided Americans. Politicians are bringing forth legislation and other possible solutions, while Mexico faces major security challenges that affect migrants crossing its territory.
The Northern Triangle governments must also work more efficiently and in the true interest of their constituents to resolve the unauthorized migration crisis. Families and minors must believe there is a future at home, and that migration is not the only option for economic and individual prosperity.
Ultimately, it is the duty of each nation to create the necessary circumstances for prosperity to discourage migration—but a much deeper and multi-faceted partnership and understanding between the U.S., Mexico and Central America is required to address the root causes of the crisis. Unilateral actions or enforcement alone will not ultimately stabilize this recurring cycle.
The reality is that the U.S., Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries need a much deeper and multi-faceted partnership, equivalent to the relationship between the U.S. and the Middle East. For many years, this has been the demand of Latin American nations—and now more than ever, it is clear that a shift in U.S. foreign policy towards Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries is needed to mitigate this transnational migration and humanitarian crisis.
Now, many returning undocumented minors will be thrown back into the systematic challenges that drove them to migrate in the first place. The multilateral visits among heads of state, and any support offered by Vice President Joe Biden, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, President Obama and Congress are positive steps toward transnational security and stability in the U.S., Mexico and Central America.