Central America Migration Crisis - Facts and How to Help
The Central America Migration Crisis
The Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are among the world’s most dangerous countries for its citizens: the homicide rate for youth, at 90 for every 100,000 people, is nearly five times what the World Health Organization considers an “epidemic.” Residents face an insurmountable level of violence, insecurity and lack of economic opportunities. “Join-or-die” gang recruitment policies make life nearly impossible for innocent youth in gang-controlled areas. Business owners face extortion and threats from gangs while corrupt and otherwise inadequate policing fails to protect them.
Dealing with Drought
Meanwhile, families living across the Dry Corridor of Central America are dealing with long-term drought that is depleting their land and shrinking their harvests and household incomes. Most people in the region rely on rainfed agriculture, and the drought has exhausted their food reserves. In Honduras alone, 65,500 families— or about 327,000 people—are affected across 74 municipalities. An estimated 53,000 families are in need humanitarian assistance.
Struggling with rampant violence in Central America, chronic poverty, and failed harvests due to environmental degradation and climate change, thousands of families have made the difficult decision to leave their homes and flee north. In October 2018, multiple migrant caravans made up of Hondurans and other Central Americans—about 10,000 people—traveled to reach Mexico and the United States border in search of asylum and a dignified life. The most recent flight of families in search of safety illustrates the suffering and dangers so many face in their home countries, and highlights the need to minimize the violence, extreme poverty and other root causes of this escalating humanitarian emergency.
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CRS Response to the Central America Migration Crisis
The Catholic Church has played a critical role in supporting migrants during this humanitarian crisis, and served more than 5,000 people at various locations, including Esquipulas, Mexico (near the border with Honduras), Guatemala City and Tecún Umán (a small Guatemalan town on the Mexican border).
But more than that, our primary approach in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador is to deal with the root causes that are pushing people to leave their homes and countries in the first place.
Violence in Central America
We believe young people in even the poorest, most violent neighborhoods have the power to change their lives and communities. Our youth programming takes a holistic approach, engaging communities, local partners and governments to help at-risk youth in Central America realize their full potential, and providing alternatives to migration.
Based on a model developed in Harlem, New York, in the late 1970s, CRS’ YouthBuild project provides concrete opportunities for employment, education and leadership to young people, ages 16 to 25, who are out of school or unemployed.
Poverty in Central America is one of the main "push factors" that forces people in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to leave their countries. What we're doing to encourage people to stay:
- We provide daily school meals to children through the McGovern‐Dole Food for Education Program. In Honduras alone we feed about 54,000 students a year.
- We provide “cash‐for‐work” opportunities as a source of income.
- Because families depend on livestock and crops to earn an income, we host livestock and seed fairs to help families get the resources they need to earn a living. We’re also providing vaccination services and veterinary care for their animals.
Throughout an area of Central America known as the Dry Corridor, a devastating drought has brought hardship to people's lives. CRS works with local partners and communities to help families cope with its impacts. Here’s what we’re doing to alleviate drought in Central America:
- In Honduras, CRS’ Water‐Smart Agriculture and Blue Harvest are the two primary agricultural projects, with a focus on water and soil conservation for about 1,300 corn, bean and coffee farmers.
- In El Salvador, with our partner Caritas we’re training staff in soil fertility and drought mitigation practices to help farmers improve their overall resilience.
- In El Salvador, with our partner Caritas we’re training staff how to improve the soil and use “drought-resistant” techniques so that they’re crops can grow when there’s less water.
- We’re also working with farmers to conserve their soil and plant trees around local water sources to help restore natural resources in areas where water is critical
How does foreign aid help stem migration?
Foreign aid is supporting vital work that tackles the violence in Central America driving youth to leave their homes while providing security and opportunity to thousands of families in Central America. The US government funded a $13-million program in Honduras and El Salvador that provides job training and employment services to some 5,100-low-income youth living in violent and crime ridden communities. The program, called Youth Pathways-Central America, is part of the YouthBuild International network, and combines basic education with technical skills, self-esteem workshops and community service, and works with private-sector companies and regional governments to provide seed capital to create employment alternatives in the limited job market. For positive, long-term change, we need to scale up our efforts —there are more than 250,000 youth in Central America currently out of school or unemployed.
How does the current number of people crossing the southern U.S. border compare to previous years?
There was a spike in people apprehended at the border in October and November of 2018, but overall crossings are much lower than their peak in 2000. The makeup of the people crossing the border is also different, with many more women and children trying to enter the United States. It’s important to note that most of the people crossing the border now are seeking asylum.
What does it mean when someone claims asylum?
If you are fleeing violence and persecution, you have the right to claim asylum in another country. The immigration court system in the U.S. hears asylum cases and decides whether individuals qualify under U.S. law. Most of the people coming from Central America are seeking protection but it’s unlikely they will be granted asylum. About 22% of applicants ultimately receive asylum status.
The U.S. has increased restrictions along the southern border, so why do people continue to attempt to come to the United States?
People fleeing Central American countries do so because of what’s happening in their home country and not what is happening in the United States. With continued violence and poor economic conditions, those fleeing often believe it is their only choice. The decision to leave the country is often made when all other options are exhausted.