With thousands of migrants from Central America currently stranded just south of the US border in Mexico, it’s time to ignore the political rhetoric coming from Washington for a few minutes and focus on the reasons so many choose to leave country, culture and family behind and walk 2,500 miles (4,000 kms) to an unknown future.

It’s difficult for privileged Americans–as well as most other Westerners–to feel empathy for the lives these people are leaving behind. But make no mistake about it, the actions of Western governments–through flawed foreign policy decisions–have contributed to the mass migrations we’ve all witnessed over the past decade.

Some recent comments I’ve read:

 Refugees are lazy and just want handouts.”

“Refugees are entitled and ungrateful.”

Really?

A laborer struggles to pull a wooden cart loaded with rolls of fabric through the garment district in Mexico City. Photo Credit: Henry Lewis

While there may be a minority in any given population that would rather take handouts than be employed, I can assure you that the vast majority of the poor I’ve come in contact with in Latin America work very hard just to provide the basic necessities for their families.

I observed multiple construction projects going up directly across the street when I lived in Mexico. The laborers worked a minimum of 12 hours per day Monday through Saturday and half a day on Sunday, in unsafe conditions and for very low wages. Watching them, I marveled at their strength and endurance as they performed grueling tasks by hand that would be done by machines in richer countries.

The deck is stacked against the poor

Many governments can be called out for not providing sufficient opportunities for their populations, but some Latin American countries are particularly guilty. In many cases, leadership for the past two centuries has simply been transferred from one political dynasty to another, creating some of the world’s greatest economic gaps between the wealthy ruling class and the poor masses.

Women doing laundry in Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. Photo Credit: Henry Lewis

As a teacher working in the developing world, I’ve seen the extreme disparity in educational opportunities between the rich and poor. In countries where the elite send their children abroad for their studies, being born into a poor family presents seemingly insurmountable obstacles for all but the most gifted.

Those with family connections and money control their destinies, while the poor resort to any means to provide for their families. This is often done through the large ‘informal’ economies that operate in poor countries around the globe. The city center streets in many developing world cities are filled with locals trying to sell whatever they can find–from clothing to food–in an effort to produce a subsistence wage.

Many people in developing countries who can’t find other work resort to being part of the informal economy, selling whatever they can on the streets. Many of these people are homeless as well. Photo Credit: Henry Lewis

Political repression and violence

Besides the economic migrants, a large segment of those currently seeking entrance into the USA are fleeing political repression and gang violence in El Salvador and Honduras. The US Government supported brutal dictatorships in Central America during the turbulent 1980s and the citizens of those countries are still suffering the effects decades on.

In such situations, women are often targeted and sexually abused. This has been the case in Colombia (my current home) in the past and a recent report shows such abuse is still a huge problem, especially in rural areas where the rule of law is often absent.

Over the past several decades, America’s failed War on Drugs has showered money on irresponsible governments in this region who’ve used those very resources to maintain authoritarian control over people who have legitimate issues with their own government’s policies.

‘Robocops’ attacking peaceful university demonstrators recently in Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, during a protest seeking more funding for higher education. Could this futuristic armor have been purchased with some of the hundreds of millions of dollars provided by the US government for drug enforcement in the country? Photo Credit: Colombia Reports

It’s hypocritical to preach ‘democracy’ in places like the Middle East while supporting dictators in our own backyard. If American’s want to put a dent in drug violence both at home and abroad, we’d do well to work tirelessly on policies for drug prevention and rehabilitation within our own country.

Pollution and environmental degradation

The current American administration’s denial of climate change is only going to further the problem of illegal immigration in the future as less developed countries across the globe grapple with the effects of drought and famine. According to author and journalist Todd Miller, these negative effects on agricultural production and water resources can already be seen in some Central American countries. How high will the border wall have to be to keep the starving masses out of the USA as conditions worsen?

Isn’t it time governments everywhere started planning for a sustainable future for the generations to come rather than focusing solely on creating immense short-term wealth for the privileged few?

For a view of life as a Venezuelan refugee, see my post Putting a Face on Venezuela’s Humanitarian Crisis.

peace~henry

Posted by Henry Lewis

Unconventional artist, writer, videographer and teacher. Personal Quote: It isn't easy being me ;-)

37 Comments

  1. Nightmare of cruelty, hatred, ignorance, elitism and disregard. Horrifying.

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    1. I agree @hitandrun1964.

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  2. Henry, thanks for sharing the reality of life for the working poor in Central and South America. The poverty I witnessed in Fortaleza, the capital of Brazil’s northeastern State of Ceara, has become the reality for the homeless in Los Angeles.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Hi Rosaliene.

      It’s true. There are so many people suffering from poverty in every country.

      Liked by 1 person

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      1. By the way, Henry, I’ve shared your post on my blog.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. You say it very well, Henry. More programs of fair trade with decent wages might be a good step to help uplift the poor in Central America. How can we in the US support those at the border? Sponsor families like in the 70s with the Hmong population of refugees? -Rebecca

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    1. Very good idea Rebecca.

      Liked by 1 person

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    1. I love your spontaneity! Probably we should meet first. 🙂

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  4. A very thoughtful and well-considered article Henry. Indeed, a long-term sustainable future for the generations to come has to be the focus … but politicians are notoriously so short-sighted.

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    1. So true Denzil. Politicians seem only concerned about raising funds for reelection campaigns and personal financial gains. This must change!

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  5. […] via Dispelling Myths About Migration — my quest blog […]

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      1. Disregard my earlier comment, Henry. I didn’t realize that a notification was made on your blog.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No worries Rosaliene. I’m traveling for a week with just a small phone so my WP interface is limited. Thanks for your support!

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  6. I have volunteered in Guyana for 17 years… and many years ago, I predicted that the South will simple walk North. And this was because of the internet. We in the North had always seen the poverty of the South… With the South’s access to the internet… they now see our wealth and our out of control consumption. House redesign where we tear down a good house ands build a monster simple because we can, or the reality shows, or fashion or almost everything…. Now they see daily how poor they really are… I think this is just the thin edge of the wedge… unless we take development way more seriously.

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    1. Excellent comments John. Thanks for sharing your views.

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  7. Wow so much emotional appeal, so little facts.
    Being poor and brown does not qualify people for citizenship in any country, especially not the US. Caravanning and causing a huge scene is not how you achieve asylum. These people are not hungry, half of them are fat, they are not fleeing, they are living in a culture of violence which is completely different.
    What’s next, should America boat in all 100 million people from the Philippines just because their own failed nation is plagued with violence and low wages? Get fucked.
    FINISH THE WALL, DEPORT & BAN ALL ILLEGALS. American citizens (including the legal immigrants) do not want to pay for these people to move in and take up space and jobs especially while the country is already overpopulated (with low wage workers at that).
    Democrat policies ruined America for decades and we’re tired of it, no more, the gig is up for “diversity” pushing leftists.

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      1. Is that your response to what I said? If so then I rest my case

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    1. Hi Amanda,

      Sorry for the delay in replying to your comments. I was traveling in a remote area of Colombia when I tried to respond, but lost the connection. Please see this week’s post for my full response:

      https://myquest.blog/2018/12/22/discussing-us-immigration-emotion-and-facts/

      I welcome dissenting opinions!

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  8. I think we are seen the effects of Regan and Olllie North’s policies in Central America,;; which when he was called on to explain conveniently said he couldn’t remember!

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    1. Hi and welcome! As a species, we don’t seem to learn from our mistakes of the past. I agree that American foreign policy is at least partially responsible for the horrific conditions found in parts of Central America. After Reagan and George W. Bush’s foreign policy foibles, I’m convinced every American administration should hire an anthropologist to advise them on the cultural ramifications of policy decisions. Bureaucrats seem to have no clue about how human nature manifests itself. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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      1. You are welcome. I like your idea of an anthropologist on the Foreign Policy post!

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  9. Just to let you know I’ve read your post, and the speaker/writer understands only too well the real reason behind people desperately seeking a better life for themselves, if not just to stay alive. The international politics mentioned are also accurate.
    PS: if I were that Amanda person I’d be ashamed to have displayed my abysmal ignorance of reality so publicly.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Hi Sha’Tara,

      I think we’re currently living through a period where some people like flaunting their ignorance. It’s become quite acceptable, from the big guy on down the food chain. Thanks for expressing your views!

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  10. The situation is so horrid there.

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    1. True–and just as horrid (or more so on the scale of human suffering) in so many other parts of the world.

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    1. Thanks so much for the reblog!

      Liked by 1 person

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  11. theburningheart January 12, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    Thank you for telling it as it is. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Thanks @theburningheart. I just write what I see, based on my experiences living and interacting with the locals in different parts of the world.

      Liked by 1 person

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