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Report: U.S. Has Deported More Central American Migrants Than Mexicans Since 2014

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. government has apprehended and deported more unauthorized migrants from Central American countries than those from Mexico in the last five years, according to the latest report released Wednesday by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI).

Between 2014 and 2018, the report showed the numbers of apprehensions and deportations of unauthorized Guatemalan, El Salvadoran and Honduran migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border surpassed those migrants from Mexico. In 2017 alone, there were 163,000 apprehensions of migrants from the Northern Triangle countries, compared to 128,000 apprehensions of Mexicans, a pattern that has continued into 2018.

With this shift, the report says, so are the activities, demographics and patterns of migration across the southern border.

In the past, migrants crossing the border were overwhelmingly single males. Now, they have changed to families traveling together, members of the LGBTQ community, women and unaccompanied children.

And while in prior periods the migrants were crossing mainly for economic reasons, the recent arrivals on the border include sizable numbers of migrants seeking asylum or humanitarian protection, including more than 6,000 caravan members in 2018, straining the U.S. and Mexican asylum systems and intensifying political debates on immigration policy.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice data, migrants from the Northern Triangle countries filed approximately 40,000 asylum claims in U.S. immigration courts in 2016, nearly five times as many claims as those submitted in 2012. The Trump administration has taken a number of steps to narrow access to humanitarian protections since then.

“We’ve been seeing a major shift—and the nature and scale of repatriations are also changing,” said Ariel Ruiz Soto, associate policy analyst and one of the authors of the report, “Sustainable Reintegration: Strategies to Support Migrants Returning to Mexico and Central America.”

New caravans forming

As the scale of apprehensions and deportations from the U.S.-Mexico border continues, new caravans are also expected to form. It heightens, Soto adds, the pressure on Mexico and Northern Triangle countries to improve their capacity to receive and reintegrate returning migrants.

This week hundreds of Hondurans had reportedly left the city of San Pedro Sula in a new caravan and crossed peacefully into Guatemala, hoping to reach the United States or Mexico. The number of migrants joining this caravan is expected to build up along the way.

News of this latest trek came as Pres. Trump demands $5.9 billion to build the border wall, which has resulted in a partial government shutdown that becomes the longest in history.

"A big new Caravan is heading up to our Southern Border from Honduras. Tell Nancy Pelosi and Chuck that a drone flying around will not stop them. Only a Wall will work," Trump tweeted Tuesday, alluding to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer.

Reception and reintegration services

According to the MPI report, if reception and reintegration services and programs are improved in the United States, Mexico and Central America, it could have a long-term positive effect for both destination and origin countries.

These services and programs would help returning (either voluntarily or involuntarily) or repatriated migrants “find their footing in local communities and obtain better livelihoods in the long run, [and] hold the potential to reduce repeat illegal migration, while enabling countries of origin to benefit from the skills and assets migrants have acquired abroad,” the report revealed.

Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas, an independent consultant for MPI and co-author of the report, said that while Mexico, which has a lot more experience in serving returning migrants, the Northern Triangle countries are now showing progress in reception and reintegration services, including work visa, shelter, education, health care and psychosocial support.

“These are very promising opportunities for them,” he said. If they are in place properly, they are great investments for all these countries.”

No ID and skills certificates

But opportunities also come with challenges. Most returning migrants from Mexico and Central American countries have lack of identification documents that would allow them to access government services and so they face difficulties finding jobs, especially among high-skilled migrants, that match their skills and labor-market needs.

Most of these migrants don’t have an ID, a passport or birth certificate, or they were not in their possession when they were apprehended and detained by immigration authorities. And once the process of reintegration begins, many of these migrants find out that employers require skills certification and other credentials that are often too difficult to obtain, consequently driving them to gain employment as public vendors, maids or personal drivers—which are unlikely covered by labor standards.

Luis Argueta, a Guatemalan-American film producer and director, said the other obstacle is that many of both returning migrants and government officials are not even aware of these reintegration services and programs. Deportees in Mexico and Central American countries, he added, also face social stigma and employment discrimination.

“It is a real obstacle when migrants and government officials have limited awareness of these services, then these assistance programs limit their use and cast doubts on its efficacy and trust in the government,” he said. “Having experienced trauma in the detention centers, it is more difficult for these migrants to deal with social stigmatization, which results in restricting their employment options in the formal sector.”