News Release

Biden Re-ups Policies that Fuel Desperate Migration from Central America

AVIVA CHOMSKY, achomsky@salemstate.edu
Chomsky is professor of history and coordinator of Latin American studies at Salem State University in Massachusetts and a contributor to TomDispatch. Her book, Central America’s Forgotten History: Revolution, Violence, and the Roots of Migration, is being published this month. Her latest piece, “Will Biden’s Central America Plan Slow Immigration — Or Speed it up?” was just published by Salon.

She writes: “Read closely, a significant portion of Biden’s immigration proposal focuses on the premise that addressing the root causes of Central America’s problems will reduce the flow of immigrants to the U.S. border. In its own words, the Biden plan promises to promote ‘the rule of law, security, and economic development in Central America’ in order to ‘address the key factors’ contributing to emigration. Buried in its fuzzy language, however, are long-standing bipartisan Washington goals that should sound familiar to those who have been paying attention in these years.

“Their essence: that millions of dollars in ‘aid’ money should be poured into upgrading local military and police forces in order to protect an economic model based on private investment and the export of profits. Above all, the privileges of foreign investors must not be threatened. As it happens, this is the very model that Washington has imposed on the countries of Central America over the past century, one that’s left its lands corrupt, violent, and impoverished, and so continued to uproot Central Americans and send them fleeing toward the United States. …

“For almost two decades the United States has been bullying (and funding) military and police forces to its south to enforce its immigration priorities, effectively turning other countries’ borders into extensions of the U.S. one. In the process, Mexico’s forces have regularly been deployed on that country’s southern border, and Guatemala’s on its border with Honduras, all to violently enforce Washington’s immigration policies.

“Such outsourcing was, in part, a response to the successes of the immigrant rights movement in this country. U.S. leaders hoped to evade legal scrutiny and protest at home by making Mexico and Central America implement the uglier aspects of their policies. …

“The model Washington continues to promote is based on the idea that, if Central American governments can woo foreign investors with improved infrastructure, tax breaks, and weak environmental and labor laws, the ‘free market’ will deliver the investment, jobs, and economic growth that (in theory) will keep people from wanting to migrate in the first place. Over and over again in Central America’s tormented history, however, exactly the opposite has happened. Foreign investment flowed in, eager to take advantage of the region’s fertile lands, natural resources, and cheap labor. This form of development — whether in support of banana and coffee plantations in the 19th century or sugar, cotton, and cattle operations after World War II — brought Central America to its revolutions of the 1980s and its northbound mass migration of today. …

“In mid-March, President Biden appeared to link a positive response to Mexico’s request for some of Washington’s surplus Covid-19 vaccine to further commitments to cracking down on migrants. One demand: that Mexico suspend its own laws guaranteeing humane detention conditions for families with young children. Neither country had the capacity to provide such conditions for the large number of families detained at the border in early 2021, but the Biden administration preferred to press Mexico to ignore its own laws, so that it could deport more of those families and keep the problem out of sight of the U.S. public.”