At the start of his term, U.S. President Biden sent an Immigration Bill to Congress as part of his commitment to modernize our immigration system. The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 establishes a new system to manage migration across the hemisphere in a way that restores humanity and American values. An important component of this bill is addressing the root causes of migration from Central America while ensuring that the United States remains a refuge for those fleeing persecution.
Understanding and solving the migration flows from the Northern Triangle are not new challenges. Aid has been poured into the region without resolution. How it has been delivered, who has managed it and where it has been invested offer clues of what to do and not to do next.
The Biden administration has tasked DART (Disaster Assistance Response Team) with providing humanitarian assistance through a group of disaster experts. The team will scale up emergency food assistance, humanitarian programs, coordinate with local partners and officials, and provide relief to communities affected by the crisis.
President Joe Biden has appointed Vice President, Kamala Harris to lead efforts to curb migration from Central America and coordinate with El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala the strategies necessary to address the root causes of migration from the region.
Local journalists who have been living and reporting on their communities for decades explain and suggest places where investment and reforms can provide immediate and long-term development.
Solutions to Root Causes. A Conversation with 3 Local Journalists.
Mauricio Cáceres, an awarded photojournalist from El Salvador has reported on the migrant caravans along the Guatemalan border, Mexico and the United States. He accompanied migrants along the migrant route to the US on four occasions gaining knowledge on the personal reasons that motivated the exodus. Cáceres has a degree in Migration from the Universidad de Centro América, UCA.
“Through USAID, the US should create education and employment programs, but the US government should invest directly in those programs with its own people and not through intermediaries. In my country the pandemic has hit us gravely affecting millions of Salvadorans. Some have gotten up, others reinvented themselves, many have lost their jobs, and others still have them, thank God. But an important element here is that the coyotes, the mafia lie to the youth enticing them to leave the country with the motive of enlisting them as objects of their service. The battle against violent groups in our countries is another problem, although Nayib Bukele’s government is hitting them hard.
Education needs to be accessible and affordable.
In El Salvador finding scholarships to attend private universities is nearly impossible. Private education and university costs are terribly expensive. The only public university is the Universidad de El Salvador, but you can easily spend 10 years studying there before you can complete your education. Families want to send their children to private schools and private universities because of safety and security. Mareros roam the public university and public schools, placing the youth in danger.
Extreme poverty in our country is minimal but many things need to change here. Education is very expensive. There are few opportunities for students seeking and needing scholarships to complete advanced degrees. Only students who earn a perfect score have a chance to qualify, and even then, our young people need opportunities even when getting a 10. Salvadoran youth want to have a good future including education and work opportunities.
In my line of work I come across many Salvadorans from all walks of life. Salvador Santos provided the following testimony as a reason for migration:
“In the U.S. they pay by the hour, and in El Salvador it takes all day to make what you can make in the U.S. in one hour.”
Joselin Rivas said the following: “If the maras don’t leave my country, the one who will have to leave is me, as I will continue looking for opportunities for a better and safe life.”
I belong to the Association of Photojournalists, Cameramen and Reporters de El Salvador, CAFOCARES. With the pandemic many of our colleagues have been laid off, so we come together with groceries for those who need them. As a legal association we want to create a protection office for journalists who are in danger. Currently, the investment in projects is one of the few ways to support artists, journalists, writers and all those who fight for and preserve the culture of the country.
Investment Areas: Quality Education, Education Access, Education Affordability, Education and Safety, Youth Programs, Employability, Security. Program that invests in journalism and culture.
Luis Contreras is a Salvadoran International Political Analyst and Consultant on Citizen Security and Police Tactics of El Salvador. Contreras is a Salvadoran TV and Academic and Opinion Columnist for several newspapers in El Salvador. He is the Founder and President of PROSEDE Consulting (Protection, Security and Defense). Below, he offers his insights on where to start.
Undoubtedly in past governments, the main causes of migration were the economy and insecurity. Maras and gangs expelled many families from their homes. With the current government of Nayib Bukele, this has changed. Public security is no longer the primary cause for migration. Today it’s about the economy, which has been severely affected by COVID-19. Among the three countries in the Northern Triangle, we are the country with the lowest migration numbers at the moment. Migrations from Honduras and Guatemala are greater than those from El Salvador. We have improved greatly in matters of security with a rate of 19 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. When in previous governments, these numbers had been around 65, or 70 per 100,000. This is an abysmal difference.
The current cause of migration is triggered by the economic impact of COVID-19 which greatly affected small and medium-sized companies. In past years, international aid was diverted by corruption which affected the development plans for which it was intended.
What could be done now is to target assistance. In El Salvador there is a bank called BANDESAL that directly provides financing, credits to micro entrepreneurs, and subsidies in case of emergencies to small companies. Through BANDESAL aid could be organized for direct and targeted deliveries. The aid could be conditional in support of certain measures and BANDESAL could be charged with distributing those funds according to the specific reasons for which they would be intended, instead of leaving it to a discretionary measure by the government.
A focus on public safety needs to continue. We are looking to restore a model of citizen security. This government is investing a lot in the social prevention of crime. Through the Cubo projects, which are centers for at risk youth, El Salvador plans to implement a very ambitious project that has never been done in the country or in the region. These centers are modern buildings that are being built in high-risk areas where youth can learn English, computer science, etc.
The United States could provide employment and training opportunities for our young professionals, lawyers, teachers, doctors through scholarships or job opportunities in the United States. To solve the problem of migration will require more than money and subsidies.
The United States could take advantage of the human resources in El Salvador. The bureaucracy in our country does not allow opportunities for professional development. Through legal work visas and academic and professional exchanges with El Salvador, the U.S. could provide professional development opportunities for Salvadoran citizens.
Academic, educational and professional exchanges would great, and would open the door to our professionals across different sectors to gain knowledge and expertise that could be invested back in El Salvador. In all countries, as is the case of El Salvador, there are very intelligent people with skills and abilities that could contribute to many areas of society.
Loans for development are a good solution but the internal development components of our society need be prioritized as well.
Support Programs for Our Youth
We have a lot of young people in their twenties who want to launch businesses. Providing the technologies and opportunities to do so and accompanying them with academic studies would be very beneficial. Programs that promote virtual education in El Salvador are also in great need. The software is very expensive and many universities in our country do not have it. With COVID-19, we saw that virtual education is a new direction in education that we need to incorporate. It would allow people to work on their business and study virtually. Virtual education could also help people who work and who also want to improve themselves through shorter careers, for example, technical, computer science and local development virtual certifications. Some professionals would like the ability to earn certifications and degrees in two years, not ten, for example. Some people have different abilities and prefer shorter careers and a variety of paths. We need more training that supports a youth entrepreneurship program.
Programs for Seniors
We have a large, senior citizen population who are retiring and still working. A program for this group would be a great help. We don’t want our seniors to retire and wait to die. Some of them continue with their productive lives with their own businesses after retiring. It would be good to design a program were experienced senior citizens could accompany and share their knowledge with other established businesses.
Investment Areas: Economic, Targeted Distribution of Aid for specific programs, Virtual Education Software and Training, Shorter Virtual Careers; Certification options, Academic and Professional Exchanges with the U.S. Youth and Senior programming; Scholarships for Higher Education. Citizen Security. Entrepreneurship for youth and for senior citizens.
Milton Turcios is a News Presenter on Paradise TV, in Santa Bárbara, Honduras. He enjoys telling stories of overcoming, solidarity and perseverance of the “tierra adentro” peoples of rural communities, their way of life and how they work after their dreams. Turcios is also featured in Honduras’ daily news. He is a former public relations officer for UN Women in Honduras, promoting campaigns in support of women in politics.
The most urgent issue standing in the way of Honduran development is law abidance and applicability of the law. There is a widespread disregard for the laws. This causes investors to refrain from investing in Honduras because there are no clear rules. Honduran governments have been highly corrupt. With the issue of prosecuting drug trafficking, Honduras is receiving a lot of help.
Some years ago, I was invited to the United States to an event to talk about youth and vulnerability in Honduras. The issue for the youth is the few opportunities that our young people have to undertake and to develop professionally. This is the serious problem we have, lack of employability. There are few companies investing in Honduras because they do not see the clear rules.
The United States could help us by investing in issues of law abidance, integrity, justice, strategies for cleaning up acts of corruption in the country; these are the fundamental issues for Honduras to rise up. It is not only the political class, but Honduran society as a whole has become contaminated with matters of corruption. It is a very serious issue; it is a societal problem.
The United States could support us in educational matters, in training the trainers on how to establish clear rules in schools, how to design an education that breeds honest people, how to integrate a curriculum of character, because that is the great problem we have in our beloved Honduras.
To add to these, our struggles of corrupt politics, lack of rules, lack of employability, Santa Barbara where I live, was devastated by Hurricanes Eta and Iota. For these people, their houses were destroyed, their lands were lost, the crops were lost. These families had to leave for the United States because the government has yet to solve the housing crisis generated by the disasters.
Without housing, without work, without government response, what are these families supposed to do?
And then entering the formative issue of education, Honduras is driven by the micro enterprise. Most of the money that circulates in our economy is through micro entrepreneurs. A direct contribution from the United States on the subject of training for micro-enterprises in the country in order to generate employability, would be a great investment in our country, but it would have to be done on a massive scale for this to generate national change. And of course, to clean up the issue of judicial security so that more macro companies will invest in the country.
The legal framework in Honduras is there; but the issue is the applicability of the rules. Who applies the rules? How do we become a society that respects rules? Since 2009, Honduras has been mired in political lawsuits, which has generated political instability. Most macro companies won’t invest in a country where there are these types of lawsuits, where corrupt politicians want to grope the new companies that arrive. From the perspective of investors, these are very possibly what stops them from investing: “We cannot invest in a country where due to political lawsuits, we have 5 days without electricity. We cannot invest in a country where teachers go out protesting and block the roads because teachers are demanding their payments and the government does not want to pay them due to political issues, too.”
The issue of establishing a political society with a moral compass, law abiding, educated in democratic, respectful principles these are part of the investments that the United States should make at least in advancing democracy here. Help us to debug the country’s politics so that politicians are not above the law. This is a fundamental issue.
The first investment that the United States should make is precisely to help us have a solid democracy with clear rules so that no one is above the law. These principles should be practiced from the schools; these teachings should be part of an educational curriculum that starts early in schools, in kindergarten. The United States can invest in our society in a number of ways: teach us what a democracy that is at the service of all looks like, with clear and fair rules. Because this is the issue here.
Nobody is going to invest in a country where the roads are taken for political and ideological reasons. Where the energy goes out for a week, causing industry losses because they need to pay thermals companies instead of the conventional energy that we have.
The United States can help us raise the next generation of children who grow up educated about respecting the law and who grow up with access to all levels of education and to opportunities to work. These elements would create a different Honduras.
Illiteracy is another huge challenge that must be overcome. Honduras has a large number of illiterate people because more has been invested in security issues than in educational programs. The Honduran budget of 240 billion lempiras is largely devoted to security.
The transversal axis of Honduras is not education. There is a disinterest in building a highly intellectual, competitive society. As a result, Honduras does not invest in education. Schools are inhumane schools; they are not suitable for children or for the teachers. It is a terrible matter. There are no educational priority programs in this country.
Everything has centered around security. This issue has been the subject of all political campaigns by all leaders. There is investment in security infrastructure, in weapons, in technology for security but crime is still here. High rates of violence have increased and continue to rise. This is why people continue to leave in the caravans for the United States. Because it is not through repression that things will change. We are not safer by punishing those that the country forgot, those who were not given the education they deserved when they were children, or by repressing adolescents, young people, who could not find work when education and opportunities to work or launch a business should have been there for them. These are the reasons why they entered a life of crime. And because there is crime, people leave.
Public security officials have responded with repression and imprisonment of those who have become victims of the system. Security in Honduras has been of no use. It worries us because we have invested in it. In fact, the state takes a percentage from our salaries for the security issue and the results we have are not what we had expected.
Why? Because the government is investing in security, but it is not investing in food security, in educational security, in welfare security but is focused on repressive security and this has not yielded results. People leave because every day there are dead people in Honduras. Every day in Honduras people are afraid to go out on the streets.
A study of Honduras’ democracy from 1982 to the present leave us wanting for much more. We have not created the type of country that we hoped for.
Investment areas: 1. Invest in democratic education and respect for the laws. 2. Political integrity 3. Entrepreneurship (the micro enterprise moves Honduran economy. 4) Establish a pact to comply with the law at all levels (Educacion Ciudadana). 5. Assistance in connecting with foreign investment and marketing of our best products, services and opportunities. 6. Educational investment, School Structural Investment, Curricular, Pedagogical, Teacher trainer investment. Alphabetization campaigns. Food Security, Housing Security.
Latina Republic partners with local journalists in Central America and prioritizes their voices and stories. Through our program, Voces, we celebrate independent regional journalism as critical to sustaining democracy. Latina Republic believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged in their own recovery. It is important to foster intercultural understanding in reporting. Through our Voces program, Latina Republic serves as a platform for untold narratives that stimulate cross border understandings and prioritizes local perspectives at the center of dialogue in the region.
Soledad Quartucci | Latina Republic
Dr. Soledad Quartucci is the founder and CEO of Latina Republic, a 501(C)3 California-based nonprofit organization. Latina Republic is a reporting, research, advocacy and charitable organization advancing human rights in the Americas. We fill the void in coverage of urgent social, political, human rights, economic and gender inequalities affecting the Americas. Through our allies in Latin America, we highlight contributions, heritage, history, leadership and innovation. Latina Republic reports on stories that integrate local strategies to the betterment of the region. We make space for and empower unheard voices and celebrate the rich histories of Latin America.