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Perspectives

October 20, 2008
Guatemalans cross Mexico’s other border

The Mexico-Guatemala border.

Though the U.S.-Mexico border receives much attention and immigration is a hot-button issue for many Americans, Mexico’s other border is equally alive with activity — and the debate equally contentious.

Recently, Guatemala tightened security along its border with Mexico to deter illegal immigration and drug smuggling. Mexico’s “Plan Sur,” implemented to tighten the country’s southern border, was supported by the U.S.

Vanessa Burgos is an independent journalist and human rights worker in Latin America. She writes for the online magazine Upside Down World and discusses the reasons for mass migration to Mexico.

Mexico-Guatemala: The other border

The immigration experience of Central Americans offers cautions about current approaches to immigration reform, just as a U.S. debate on immigration fails to produce meaningful changes in immigration policies.

When the topic of immigration comes up in the U.S., the debate usually centers on the Mexico-U.S. border and the Mexican immigrants that make up a large portion of those who cross the border running along the states of California, Arizona, and Texas. Far fewer think about the significant number of immigrants who must cross multiple borders before they arrive in the U.S.

Pushed by the hope of finding new economic opportunities, thousands of Central Americans and others cross the border between Mexico and Guatemala. It is the natural gateway for the rest of Latin Americans. According to Mexico’s National Institute of Migration, 2 million documented and undocumented cross Mexico’s southern border a year. The majority of these undocumented immigrants are Guatemaltecos, followed by Hondurans, Salvadorians, and a fewer number of Nicaraguans. They are either in route to the U.S or seeking temporary work in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas.

Over the last years, difficult economic circumstances, lack of opportunities, along with natural disasters have increased undocumented migration. Since 2001, the number of undocumented Central Americans coming into Mexico has more than doubled. This number is a low estimate considering it is hard to accurately document the actual number of undocumented immigrants who cross the border.

Central American immigration to Mexico, however, is no new phenomenon. During the civil wars of the 1980s, Mexico saw an increase of immigration from Central America as refugees fled genocide in their home countries. Natural disasters such as hurricanes Mitch and Stan have also put more pressure on already poor communities to migrate north. In the last two decades, however, a growing factor in Central American migration to Mexico has been the adoption of free-trade policies in the region.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user TMSean under a Creative Commons license.

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