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Monday, July 21, 2014

The Central American Immigration Machine

Illegal immigration from Central America begets more immigration.  Anthopologist David Stoll explains this in a recent WSJ op-ed: Behind the Border Pile Up.   Remittances sent back by U.S. immigrants--about $12 billion a year to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, or about 10-15 percent of their national incomes--distort the local economies by making land prices higher.   So more young men have to travel to the US to find work to afford the rising prices, and the cycle continues.  Stoll:
But migration itself produces victims, such as wives hoping for the deportation of their husbands, and they are far from the only ones. Where I work in Guatemala, remittances have inflated the price of land to astounding levels; most families are unable to buy property unless they can place at least one wage-earner in the U.S. So every family is under pressure to send someone north. Migrants must borrow at least $5,000 to pay human smugglers. Many pay 10% monthly interest and put up family land as collateral. So they're betting the farm. When something goes wrong, they lose it.
Certainly the remittances help improve the local standards of living in these poor countries.  But they come at a human cost: family break-up, etc.  Reuniting the family in the US often leads to more problems:
One way to hold the original family together is for the mother and children to come north. But family reunification is no panacea even when it can be done legally. When an earner remits to his wife and children in Central America, the money goes much further than it does in the U.S. Once everyone reaches El Norte, even two parents working for the minimum wage may not be able to support a family. So their children get an education in downward mobility and relative deprivation, which is one reason immigrants brought here as boys run a high risk of being sucked into gangs. [My emphasis.]

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