The cycle of fear and violence does not end for those immigrants who are deported from the United States. A recent article by The Guardian stated that of 10,333 of those deported to Honduras, 35 were killed within months of arrival. This is not just a random occurence, it is a trend, and one that plays a part of a larger structural injustice, one that Seattle University members are paying attention to.
Michael Lott, a senior at Seattle U, taught English in a school in Guatemala City last year and spoke with communities there about the issue of immigration. He explained that the push-and-pull factors that many of these emigrants have to consider are more relatable than we realize. The American tradition of going to college after high school, he said, is perhaps the closest parallel that can be drawn.
“Many students migrate for education and then again to find work after graduation. Young people in Central America experience this, but with much higher stakes,” Lott said. “While our migration for college is more of a coming of age experience, migration for young people in Central America is a matter of survival.”
Lott spoke to the other side of this debate, of the stories of those who leave everything behind to seek refuge in a new country.
“The prospects for economic advancement for the poor in Central America are minimal, and many see migration as the only viable option,” Lott said. “Additionally, many young people in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are exposed to an incredible amount of violence.”
After navigating the dirt roads and rivers of the border crossing from Guatemala and other countries, these unaccompanied minors now have to navigate United States immigration policies.
These minors attempting to gain asylum to the U.S. must prove they actually fear for their lives in order to stay.
“Aliens seeking asylum in the U.S. have the burden of establishing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that they are ‘refugees’ under the INA’s definition of this term. This means showing that they (1) have suffered persecution, or (2) have a well-founded fear of persecution (3) on account of (4) a protected ground (i.e., race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group),” stated a recent report by the United States Congressional Research Service.
According The Guardian, more than 83 deportees have fallen victim to gang violence upon returning to their home country. Three of these murders took place in Guatemala, a country that has many ties with Seattle.
While teaching at a school in Guatemala City, senior Susanna Waldrop found that much of the violence is directly linked to the U.S. government’s funding of corrupt Central American governments in the 1980s. She explained that the presence of these gangs are a significant push factor for immigrants, despite the risk of deportation.
“Risking the journey sounds better than living in fear of the gangs,” Waldrop said.
Waldrop went on to explain that the harsh economic conditions that are present in Central America are a large contributing factor for emigration.
“Due to the lack of economic opportunities, getting involved in a gang can be tempting, it offers a comfortable life, and as long as you stay on your gang’s good side, you and your family are mostly safe,” Waldrop said.
She explained that gangs pervade almost all aspects of some communities in the country. Yet for Waldrop, as complex as these issues of violence are, it is important to realize that our country’s policies also play a crucial role.
Eddie Salazar of the Office of Jesuit Mission and Identity spoke to the enormous privilege we have as American citizens. He explained that with an American passport, the idea of not being able to cross borders is almost unthinkable.
“We live in a culture of affluence with the privilege of crossing borders with no repercussions and we’ve seen youth migrating from central america arrive here with great peril, seeking asylum from violence,” Salazar said.
For Waldrop, as a Seattle U student and American citizen, she sees our involvement as urgent and necessary.
“It’s especially important for us as members of a country that is a destination for many emigrants to realize that we play a crucial role in the situations that they are fleeing,” Waldrop said. “Our country helped create the violence, so we have a responsibility to create a safe space for those who dare to seek it.”
Jarrod may be reached at [email protected]