The Trump White House ignored warnings from its own acting homeland security department that poverty and food scarcity, partly driven by climate change, had helped make Guatemala the single biggest contributor to undocumented migration to the southwestern border of the United States, NBC News reports.
“Research compiled one year ago by Customs and Border Protection pointed to an overwhelming factor driving record-setting migration to the U.S. from Guatemala: Crop shortages were leaving rural Guatemalans, especially in the country’s western highlands, in extreme poverty and starving,” the U.S. TV network reports, citing an internal Homeland Security report. That research “showed that migration surged from those areas of Guatemala without reliable subsistence farming or wages from commercial farming jobs. More than 100,000 Guatemalans headed north last year, and many more followed in fiscal year 2019.”
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan “publicly sounded the alarm about Guatemala’s food scarcity,” NBC says. “But inside the Trump White House, that message was largely ignored in both policy decisions and messaging around what should be done to stem the flow of migrants.” A month after the CBP report was finalized last September, Trump “announced he was considering suspending foreign aid to Guatemala, which included money used to mitigate the effects of climate change on small farms.”
“Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S.,” Donald Trump tweeted last October. “We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them.” In April, the U.S. froze or reprogrammed US$570 million in aid to the three countries, NBC adds: “With evidence of a correlation between acute food insecurity and migration in hand, the Trump administration instead focused on an agreement with the government of Guatemala to stem the flow of immigrants through law enforcement means.”
The NBC story details funding the Trump administration is providing for immigration enforcement and housing in Guatemala, and for vetting of Guatemalan farm workers entering the U.S. on temporary visas.
“But none of those actions take on the impact of climate change and variability on the food supply in Guatemala’s highlands,” NBC states. “A DHS official said the high turnover inside the agency has made officials nervous about keeping their jobs and anxious to please the White House, particularly senior adviser Stephen Miller.”
And “everyone knows Miller isn’t interested in hearing about climate change,” the official said.
Last month, meanwhile, the New York Times cited a “national scourge” of violence against women as another factor driving migration from Guatemala to the U.S.
“Violence against women, and domestic violence in particular, is a powerful and often overlooked factor in the migration crisis. Latin America and the Caribbean are home to 14 of the 25 deadliest nations in the world for women, according to available data collected by the Small Arms Survey,” the Times reported. “In Guatemala, the homicide rate for women is more than three times the global average. In El Salvador, it is nearly six times. In Honduras, it is one of the highest in the world—almost 12 times the global average.”
The United Nations compares the danger to living in a war zone, the Times adds. “Despite the risk associated with migration, it is still lower than the risk of being killed at home,” said Angela Me, chief of research and trend analysis at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Yet Trump’s former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, “issued a decision last year to try to halt victims of domestic violence, among other crimes, from seeking asylum,” overturning standard practice in asylum courts by questioning whether women fleeing domestic violence can be seen as members of a defined social group. This summer, new attorney general William Barr went further, making it harder for families fleeing violence to qualify.