| About Us
| Products |
LATAM LETTER Aug-3-2012 (850 words) Backgrounder. With photo. xxxi
Agencies look at new development to stem migration from Central America
By David Agren
Catholic News Service
CIUDAD IXTEPEC, Mexico (CNS) -- Undocumented Central Americans stream through this sweaty railway town in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of Oaxaca state, just one of the many pit stops for migrants as they traverse Mexico.
In Ixtepec, shelter operator Father Alejandro Solalinde said he's welcoming a growing number of Central Americans, even though the road through Mexico is dangerous and he himself has been targeted with threats by those who prey on undocumented migrants.
"We're noticing an increase in all (Mexican) shelters," said Father Solalinde, director of the Brothers of the Road shelter. He recently returned to his work after being forced to flee for several months because of the threats.
Church officials and nongovernmental organizations long have battled for the better treatment of Central American migrants as they transit Mexico and pursue economic opportunities in the United States. But developing public policies and economic development programs in the migrants' countries of origin in an attempt to reduce the incentive to leave has been difficult -- and often an afterthought.
"We believe in the right of people to migrate in order to sustain their families if they can't do it any other way," said Erica Dahl-Bredine, country representative for CRS in El Salvador.
"The piece ... that has been neglected for quite some time is the flip side of the coin ... that people have the right not to have to migrate, to make a dignified living in their countries of origin," she said.
CRS and the Washington Office on Latin America sponsored a conference July 24 -25 in San Salvador on migration and "strengthening the development alternative."
Proven development alternatives that would keep people home are still scant, Dahl-Bredine acknowledged.
"That's not what we've put enough attention on and probably because we don't really know how to do that," she said of the conference focus.
Providing reasons for migrants not to leave has been difficult in a region with a history of armed conflicts, poverty and natural disasters, and more recently by an increase of gang conflicts in El Salvador and drug cartel activities and political instability in Honduras.
CRS in El Salvador has focused on education, job training and programs to get youths out of the grip of gangs and into gainful employment, Dahl-Bredine said.
Some in the private sector are taking a different approach to development. Dahl-Bredine cited the example of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, which strives to ensure food security in the communities where it sources raw materials.
Governments have promoted development, too. But policies to pursue more economic growth have often targeted big foreign investments and infrastructure projects instead of working with communities to create more sources of sustainable income, said Nelson Cuellar of the Salvadoran Program of Development and Environmental Research.
Remittances are another potential tool for development, along with a way of engaging the diaspora. Most remittances sent back to Central America, though, are used for "consumption" and perhaps housing, said Vinicio Sandoval, coordinator of the Independent Monitoring Group of El Salvador.
"Proper public policies so a country can develop on its own are the answer" and not remittances, said Sandoval, whose organization monitors labor rights in Central America.
In Mexico, where remittances reached more than $20 billion annually before dropping off in 2008, a program known as Three for One was started to encourage the development of public works projects. Through the program, the federal, state and municipal governments match each dollar directed toward public projects by migrant groups outside of the country.
Rodolfo Zamora Garcia, a researcher at the Autonomous University of Zacatecas, has found flaws with the program even though many migrants are interested in helping their hometowns.
"Migrants are financing 25 percent of investments (through Three for One) that should be the obligation of the government: installing waterworks, lights and drainage," he said.
"Additionally, (politicians) take advantage of it to improve their images and say that they're the ones helping the migrants' communities."
Insecurity in Mexico has made investing back in hometowns less attractive, too.
"When migrants make investments in agriculture, ranching or commerce, cartel toughs show up ... kidnap the migrant, kidnap the parents, kidnap family members and ask for a ransom that finishes off the (migrants') capital," Zamora said.
A slow U.S. economy has hurt the investment climate by leaving migrants with less money to send home, although remittances now are bouncing back.
A study by the Pew Hispanic Center found migration from Mexico to the U.S. had diminished in recent years and the number of Mexicans returning -- voluntarily or otherwise -- was slightly larger than the outflow.
Zamora expects that number to reverse with an improvement in the U.S. economy.
With Central Americans, the northward flow of migrants may have started to reverse already, although exact figures are unavailable.
El Salvador native German Castillo is one migrant seeking an incentive to return the U.S. He spent six years installing hardwood floors in Los Angeles until being deported. Yet he wants another shot in the U.S.
"It's better than El Salvador," he said, despite the danger of being caught for being in the country illegally and landing in prison.
Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
CNS · 3211 Fourth St NE · Washington DC 20017 · 202.541.3250