By Michelle Martin, PhD, MSW
Ever wonder why we’re getting so many waves of desperate Central American migrants coming north to the United States?
The waves began in 1979 following the U.S. intervention in the Nicaraguan Contra War, in an attempt to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. The Reagan Administration provided substantial financial and material support for the Contras operating in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, despite reports of vast corruption and mass human rights violations.
As the intervention in Nicaragua intensified and violence grew and spread through the 1980s, undocumented migration to the U.S. increased as well.
Reagan continued this support illegally, even after it was barred by Congress (remember the Iran-Contra Affair?). The U.S. also interfered significantly in Honduras, and the other Central American governments, orchestrating coups, propping up regime, instituting neoliberal policies that benefited the U.S. economy, all of which had devastating and long-lasting effects.
Ultimately a vacuum was created in response to U.S. withdrawal from the region, and civilian crime, including gang activity filled the gaps. In addition, members of the MS-13, a criminal gang that began in Los Angeles, traveled to Central America to engage in the cross-transnational drug trade, tormenting local civilians.
Mass violence and tremendous political corruption exists to this day and can be directly linked back to U.S. interference in the region.
So regardless of what you may think about these caravans or migrants, the U.S. *does* bear responsibility for what’s happened in this region, because we were in large part the cause.
Our obsession with socialism—a political ideology most politicians barely understand (but are far too happy to manipulate to scare U.S. citizens), drove foreign policy for decades, fueling proxy wars around the globe, resulting in tinderboxes that continue to burn to this day. (Did you know that the Taliban was a U.S. creation in Afghanistan under very similar circumstances?).
So what is the solution? I’m not sure. The liberal response is often a battle cry for comprehensive asylum, which may or may not be the answer. As Tseng-Putterson states:
“The liberal rhetoric of inclusion and common humanity is insufficient: we must also acknowledge the role that a century of U.S.-backed military coups, corporate plundering, and neoliberal sapping of resources has played in the poverty, instability, and violence that now drives people from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras toward Mexico and the United States.”
What I am sure of though is that a solution doesn’t involve calling the victims of decades of bad U.S. foreign policy terrorists while stealing their children, and locking them up in for-profit prisons on U.S. soil, and then using these same victims as a political bargaining chip while lamenting how in the world the U.S. got into this mess.
Want to learn more? Check out these sources:
Dr. Michelle Martin is a social worker, policy specialist and Assistant Professor at California State University, Fullerton in the Department of Social Work, where she teaches social welfare policy, and researches dynamics related to immigrants, political asylum-seekers, refugees and other displaced populations.