The facts on the mass exodus of migrants from Central America

Posted Nov 3, 2018 by Karen Graham
Thousands of Central American migrants are traveling in a so-called caravan through Mexico, enduring what is potentially a deadly journey in hopes of entering the United States and claiming asylum. Why are they hoping to reach the U.S.?
Soldiers patrol in the Marcala municipality  in Honduras  which is home to up to 36 000 gang members...
Soldiers patrol in the Marcala municipality, in Honduras, which is home to up to 36,000 gang members nationwide
President Donald Trump has likened the asylum seekers to an invading army, calling them a threat to our national security - his excuse for sending 15,000 U.S. military troops to our border with Mexico. But the question remains - Who are these people, really?
Today, there are an estimated 4,000 people in the so-called caravan, that includes men, women, children, people with disabilities, and the elderly. The UN children's agency just this past week put the number of children in the group at about 2,300 - babies sprawled in strollers, or slung sweatily across their parent's chests, or trudging along the side of the road.
The current focus of Trump's repeated claim to be acting against "an invasion" is the...
The current focus of Trump's repeated claim to be acting against "an invasion" is the dwindling group of a few thousand impoverished migrants trying to get north
Guillermo Arias, AFP
These "invaders" are exhausted, traveling in scorching heat and cold rain, and exposed to threats from government militaries to organized crime. Parents are afraid for their children. To have left them behind in their home countries would have been certain death - From sexual assault to murder by the gangs.
So these weary travelers have but one choice - and that is to push forward into an unknown future - despite knowing what awaits them at the U.S. border with Mexico. The migrants have a long way to go and the trek will take weeks, perhaps months. So far, the group has averaged about 60 kilometers (37 miles) a day.
Let's look at four myths that are being spread about the migrants and asylum-seekers coming from Central America. Perhaps the facts might change some people's minds about what is really behind the exodus.
Migrants walk next to Mexican police officers after they swam across the Suchiate River from Ciudad ...
Migrants walk next to Mexican police officers after they swam across the Suchiate River from Ciudad Tecun Uman in Guatemala to Ciudad Hidalgo in Mexico
#1 - Cutting aid to Central American countries will stop the migration
Since 2016, the US has allocated more than $2 billion in aid to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to fund projects that address why people are forced to migrate.
And while Trump has threatened to cut off all foreign aid to those countries unless they stop the mass exodus, it is Congress that makes that determination.
But even if Trump could carry out his threat, it would be counter-productive because stopping aid will not make the problems Central America is facing today go away. We really need to look at the root causes of migration - violence, corruption and impunity, institutional weakness, a lack of economic opportunity, and the impacts of climate change.
Honduran migrants heading in a caravan to the US wait at the roadside near Pijijiapan  southern Mexi...
Honduran migrants heading in a caravan to the US wait at the roadside near Pijijiapan, southern Mexico on October 26, 2018
Guillermo Arias, AFP
#2 - The caravan is a national security threat
Right now, the migrant trek is taking an increasingly heavy toll on the travelers, especially women and young children – many of whom are too small to understand the epic journey. But Trump fiercely claims these people are a "security threat." Yet, when you see images of this mass of humanity, it does make you wonder who the threat really is.
The images don't show "Islamic jihadists" or “unknown Middle Easterners mixed in” with the migrant women. Trump’s claims that these migrants are criminals, that the caravans harbor people from the Middle East, and that they are creating a national emergency is nothing more than a political ploy to energize his base, inflaming fear and hatred.
These fear tactics are dangerous and make political pawns out of innocent men, women, and children who are leaving their homes out of desperation. And keep in mind -according to U.S. law, anyone arriving at the US border—with or without documentation—is legally entitled to apply for asylum.
Exhausted by their arduous journey in searing heat  migrants take any opportunity they can to rest a...
Exhausted by their arduous journey in searing heat, migrants take any opportunity they can to rest and recuperate their strength.
#3 - Immigrants drain resources and don’t contribute to the economy
This is a fact - Unauthorized immigrants are often long-time residents in communities across the U.S. They own and operate businesses while generating state, local, and federal taxes. According to the Center for American Progress, in 2016 it was reported that immigrants added an estimated $2 trillion to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Additionally, immigrants generate billions of dollars in spending power - and this all goes back to local communities. And they do not drain local resources, relying less on public benefits and social services compared to people born in the US.
#4 - No mention of climate change and natural disasters
El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are in Central America's Northern Triangle, an area most vulnerable to climate change. According to the World Bank, 60 percent of people living in rural areas in the Northern Triangle live in poverty. Honduras’ July 2017 national census showed that 64.3 percent of all households live in poverty.
Fully 95 percent of the people, mostly small farm families, have already seen the impacts of rising temperatures, unpredictable rainfall and extreme weather events on crop yields, pest and disease incidence, income generation and, in some cases, food security.
"Climate change definitely has consequences for production and for people's livelihoods, especially those who depend on agriculture," FAO consultant in El Salvador Mariano Peñate told IPS. There is also a lack of information from local governments on how to deal with a changing climate, along with a lack of adaptive programs geared to specific crops that has left many farmers out in the cold when looking for help.
President Trump is not a believer in climate change, so he doesn't mention the economic damage created by the torrential downpours and droughts or the earthquakes and other natural disasters that have plagued Central America. Many of the migrants are farmers whose livelihoods have been drastically affected by a changing climate.
Latino studies researcher, Robert Albro, explained to the Guardian that many people are moving because of growing food insecurity. “The main reason people are moving is because they don’t have anything to eat,” he said. “This has a strong link to climate change – we are seeing tremendous climate instability that is radically changing food security in the region.”