Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Immigration from Central America to US;

                                                                           ~ The Rape of the Earth
                                                                                                                    (excluding Mexico, Belize, & Antilles) 
"  If I ever raped the earth for my own profit
or dispossessed its rightful owners,
Then curse it with thistles instead of wheat,
curse it with weeds instead of barley  "
                                                                    Job 31   (The Message)

       Global migration of the contemporary world is not just a phenomenon subject to demographic studies but an interesting field of study in culture and society relations. Migration Systems Theory studies the cause and effects of migrations of international borders contemplating both, macrostructure and microstructure factors through comparative research in prior political links between the countries involved. Immigration from the Latin American countries is generally seen just as a consequence of unequal distribution of capital, or as an effect of inadequate government administration for the part of these developing countries, when too often migration is, inadvertently, a direct consequence of prior political actions between the groups involved. I hope to enlighten the inequality and social discrimination that immigrants from these regions experience in the U.S. due to both, a lethargic immigration policy system reform, and inadequate governmental programs of inclusion; when data shows, ironically, that the Hispanic community is actually the largest minority group contributor to the U.S. economy.
          My personal contribution of this study is to make obvious the macrostructures at play that, in turn, activated the microstructures that favored the considerable immigration waves of peoples from these regions to the United States specifically after the Cold War, and to suggest why they should be socially recognized as part of the citizenry pool of the United States of the 21st century. 

     Through migration theories is possible to address the EEUU/Latin American relations after WWII and events that caused immigration from these regions to the U.S., and through tracking the settlement patterns is also possible to determine the social and cultural networks put in effect to later draw conclusions that may enlighten the actual social condition of these groups in the hosting country.

          The passing of the Immigration Act of 1965 is crucial to understand the massive immigration from Latin-American countries to the United States. Peoples of Central American countries emigrated after 1965 taking advantage of this immigration policy, but still this Act is not the sole cause of their move, since if they had been economically stable, they wouldn't have had the need to let dear families and communities behind. If is true that Central regions of the American continent have moved to the United States in the search for better his/her livelihood in insignificant inflows before the 1960s, but historical socio-political forces affecting these individuals to take the individual decision to migrate without hopes of return are the factual issues influencing their move. Migration Systems Theory suggests (Faucett, 1989; Kritz et al., 1992) that any migratory movement can be seen as the result of interacting macrostructures (large-scale institutional factors) and microstructures (informal social networks or Networks Theory).
        However, the single main determinant of migration will most probably be found on the laws and regulations imposed by states and countries in response of economic, social, and political factors. Thus, the interplay of the macrostructural factors activates the microstructural networks of social capital to cause the migration moves. Since Central American countries have no records of significant immigration to the Unites States before the 1970s, in where they began seeking for political asylum from civil wars, macrostructures at play such as the decade-long of Ronald Reagan's administration of justifying military and political interventions as to promote democracy in Latin American countries of El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua as a way of advancing underlying economic interests after WWII, triggered, in time, existent microstructures that were inactive until the endorsement of the Immigration Act of 1965 (the Hart-Cellar Act).

(Refugees and peoples seeking for asylum in the US graph)


         According to the American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, logician, historian, political critic, and activist Noam Chomsky in his works about History of US Rule in Latin America, General MacArthur stated ‘The US did not want to control Nicaragua or other nation of the region, but also did not want developments to get out of their control. It wanted Nicaragua to act independently, except when in doing so would affect the US adversely’. Later Chomsky states, ‘Democracy is a good thing in the eyes of the US administration, if and only if it is consistent in its economics interests’ (Chomsky, 8:00). 

  • Context of Departure 

       The increased number and recentness of the Central American natives’ arrivals to the U.S. is only explained by the combination of macrostructural factors involved such as the 1960s and 1970s U.S. political interventions on these countries, coupled with the 1980s and 1990s U.S. immigration reforms. 

           First data of immigration of individuals from these regions to the U.S. has happened in small numbers from Central American countries as agricultural laborers during the WWII. Foreign investments disproportionately targeted production for export, taking advantage of raw material and cheap labor in developing countries, resulted in tremendous internal rural-urban migration, predominantly of low-skilled and female laborers coming from the rural economy to urban industrial centers, which in turn caused underemployment and displacement of the urban work force, which in turn, created an enormous pool of potential emigrants (Zhou, 2001). Arrivals did not become significant until the late 1970s where significant large waves began arriving seeking for asylum as conflict immigrants from devastating civil wars, and natural disasters in their countries.

    Central America was one of the regions hotly contested by militaries and paramilitaries that were directly or indirectly assisted by competing superpowers. After WWII, the US has been fighting leftist groups surging from intermittent, yet democratically elected governments, taking them as political moves toward communism. Observers claim that these policies toward democracy however, have been through military-oriented interventions that were overall harmful to the democratization of the region. In El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, the Reagan administration attempted to prevent the spread of leftism through a policy that combined economic support and direct or indirect military assistance to elected civilian governments. One could argue that granting refugee status and thus assistance would obligate the U.S. government admit questionable policies toward right-wing repressive governments with which it was allied. 
  • Nicaragua, for example, has long experienced U.S. intervention in politics and internal military conflict. After a revolution against then president Zelaya in 1909 in which two Americans were killed, U.S. naval forces patrolled the Caribbean coastal region and stationed marines in the capital city of Managua until 1933 when were withdrawn as a part of Roosevelt’s ‘Good Neighbor’ policy (the ‘Good Neighbor’ policy was the foreign US policy of Roosevelt’s administration toward Latin American countries to protect its commercial interests. Whenever a nation felt its debts were not being repaid in a prompt fashion, its citizen’s business interests were being threatened, or its access to natural resources was being impeded, military intervention or threats were often used to coerce the respective government into compliance). Sandino led a resistance opposition group until 1934 when was assassinated by the U.S. trained National Guard led by Somoza Garcia, who then kept a corrupt and oppressive ‘dynasty’ after becoming president in 1937. His son, Somoza Debayle, governed the country as a dictator in the 1970s, controlling at least half on the country’s wealth. A coalition drove Somoza into exile in 1979 and a leftist group, the Sandinistas, led by Daniel Ortega assumed power allying with the Soviet Union establishing a military state. The U.S. intervened again, supporting contra-revolutionaries in a decade-long proxy to civil war. Nicaraguans who entered the U.S. during that period were perceived as ‘victims of Communism’ and their political asylum or refugee status were approved in a 50% rate. 
  • In Guatemala, the inequitable land distribution was the principal cause of national poverty and the low quality of Guatemalan life (the decline of the Mayan civilization occurred through the dispossession of lands and the use of Mayans for forced labor on cocoa, coffee and indigo plantations), and the concomitant socio-political discontent and insurrection. The U.S. intervened after a distorted interpretation of a series of decisions made by a democratically elected administration. In 1944, a group of junior military forces overthrow the last of a long line of liberal dictators which followed a progressive movement known as October Revolution leading to Arevalo’s election, a school teacher, to presidency. His administration focused on land reforms, education, labor practices, and the electoral system, and was succeeded by another democratic elected president, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman who developed a plan to address the profound disparities in land tenure and the social inequities that accompanied it. In 1950, 70% of Guatemala’s land was in the hands of 2.2 % of landholders, including a number of U.S. corporations, and less than 25% of this land was actually under cultivation (Miyares, 2007). Arbenz Guzman (1950–54) expropriated these unused lands to redistribute to landless peasants. The United Fruit Company, a U.S. corporation with the largest landholdings, took advantage of the fear of Communism that was dominating American policy to convince the governments of U.S. presidents Harry Truman (1945–53) and Dwight Eisenhower (1953–61) that Arbenz was pro-Soviet. Thus, the C.I.A. coordinated an overthrow bringing into power a military junta initiating thus the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-96) that lasted over thirty years. 
  • The armed forces of Guatemala sustaining a total dictatorship lead by graduates of the ‘The School of Americas’, a U.S. military training establishment, have been condemned for its multiple human rights violations and for committing genocide against the indigenous Mayan people (which comprises the 51% of the national population) during the civil war through the exercise of ‘death squads’. During the Guatemalan Civil War, the C.I.A. consistently worked inside of a Guatemalan army unit known as D-2, which was responsible for the deaths of countless thousands of Guatemalan citizens, and operated a network of torture centers. During that time, especially during 1980s, hundreds of Guatemalans sought refuge in neighboring countries and struggled to enter the U.S. hoping to receive asylum as Nicaraguans and Cubans that preceded them. 
  • In El Salvador, chronic poverty, government corruption, and repression led to a 12-year civil war between the Salvadoran National Guard and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) rebels, with neither group having clearly defined purposes and support. Salvadoran citizens, including children, could be conscripted into either military force, regardless of whether they supported the group for which they were supposed to be fighting for, or be victims of antipersonnel landmines. As in Guatemala, ‘death squads’ perpetrated extrajudicial killings, and forced disappearances of key leaders and civilians suspected of anti-government activities. Civilians hid children to protect them from conscription, and gave shelter and food to both sides since their focus was on survival. As Guatemalans, hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans crossed the border to Honduran or Mexican refugee camps or sought for asylum in the U.S. One problem against Salvadoran civilians was that the Salvadoran government, in spite of its repressive tactics on human rights abuses, claimed to be anti-Communist, and thus the U.S. supported the government in power. 
  • Honduras was geographically caught in the middle of civil wars; refugees from neighboring countries housed in camps there where, at the same time, American troops were stationing military bases for training camps of U.S.-backed combatants. 

  • Honduras, the so-called ‘banana republic’ was in deed, a servile dictatorship with a polarized wealth economy that exploited in large-scale plantation agriculture, especially the banana cultivation. In practice, the banana republic was, in fact, a country operated as a commercial enterprise for private profit colluding the state favoring monopolies such as the corporations of   United Fruit Company (Chiquita brand),   Standard Fruit Company (Dole brand), and    Cuyamel Fruit Company, whereby the profits derived from private exploitation of public lands is private property, whereas the debts incurred are public responsibility. Such imbalanced economy devaluated the paper money, with the resultant government budget deficit repaid by the native working people. Because of foreign manipulation of multinational corporations, the kleptocratic government is unaccountable to its nation, the country’s private sector-public sector corruption operates the banana republic, thus, the national legislature is for sale, and function solely as a ceremonial government. Gold, silver, lead and zinc are produced at mines owned by foreign   companies there.                      During the early 1980s, the United States established a continuing military presence in Honduras with the purpose of supporting the guerrillas fighting the Nicaraguan government. Honduras was also victim of successive natural disasters such as the Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and a major flood in 2008. 
  • In Panama was where it was conceived ‘The School of the Americas’ in 1946 (now, it is located on the grounds of Fort Benning, Georgia) to train students in psychological warfare. Furthermore, as U.S. had the sovereignty of the Panama Canal since 1904, many Panamanians born in the Canal Zone were granted U.S. citizenship prior to the transfer of sovereignty to the Republic of Panama. 
  • Costa Rica, as Panama, held unique relationship with U.S.

          The era of the Good Neighbor Policy’s fundamental principle of non-intervention ended with the threat of the Cold War in 1945, which resulted in a wave of interferences into Latin American affairs attacking all suspected socialist movements in the hopes of ending the spread of communism, such as the overthrow of socialist president Arbenz in Guatemala and the radical Sandinista government of Nicaragua. A study about the U.S. immigration policies implemented in the Latin American countries during the decade of 1980s serves to explain the effects in the political field of the U.S. interventions, their effects on the economy and society at large that caused the contemporary immigration wages of Latin-Americans to the U.S. During the almost a decade of the Ronald Reagan’s administration comprised in 1981 to 1989, the U.S. have claimed to take the unprecedented interventions in Latin-America to promote democracy as a way of advancing underlying economic interests. 

  • Upon Arrival 

        Upon entering to the U.S., the half million of refugees and people seeking for asylum pool of both Salvadorians and Guatemalans were considered undocumented immigrants after 98% were denied asylum, while Nicaraguans, considered ‘victims of Communism’, experienced only 50% of denial rate. Undocumented US immigrants from Mexico alone account for 54% of the total of Hispanics, eight times the number from El Salvador, the second largest source. This apparent discrimination based on national origins led to the right of second hearing in 1991 which lead to the creation of a temporary program called ABC (after the court case name). Under ABC Salvadoran and Guatemalan were granted annually renewable work permits and SS# while waiting for years before the cases were processed, and eventually anyone who applied for asylum under ABC received full permission to work, therefore becoming quasi-documented regardless if they experienced persecution during the civil wars or not. The Immigration Act of 1990 created a quasi-documented status called TPS (Temporary Protected Status), that is, protection for deportation for 18months, which, as the A.B.C., was extended beyond multiple deadlines.

       Receiving political asylum requires proof of a well-founded fear of persecution upon returning to their homelands, however, since they were escaping the ‘death squads’, or from the ruling forced conscription of the 1980s, meeting the recorded proofs in the 1990s of such experiences far beyond the official cessation of hostilities became a challenge. Many left families behind assuming that they would receive asylum and would be able to reunite their families, but after years of the cessation of hostilities, returning to their home countries to visit their families typically negates the claim that they have a well-founded fear of persecution if repatriated.
          The 1997 Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (N.A.C.A.R.A.), originally entitled ‘The Victims of Communism Act’, granted amnesty to Nicaraguans and Cubans extending the presumption for persecution, thus qualify them for asylum and residency. Foreign-born Central American U.S. residents still struggle to be recognized as political asylum seekers, such as it is defined by the United Nations and Immigration Act of 1990.
          Hondurans were extended TPS in 1998, but most recently, those who entered as undocumented migrants and could not be repatriated as a result of devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch, could also apply for TPS, which deadline has also been extended numerous times. 

  • Settlement Patterns and Identity 

            A number of migration theories may justify the origins of contemporary Latin-Americans to immigrate to the United States in the socio-economical aspect. Migration Systems Theory explains not only the macrostucural forces propelling the individuals to migrate, but the microstructural networks that gave to the actual migration, shape. Cultural assimilation patterns of Central American immigrants in the U.S. offer also, a developed explanation in settlement. The socio-political factors grating the ‘permanent temporariness’ status of Central American communities and the consequent ‘lost in transnational limbo’ status during the past two decades, helps to explain the slow social move they experience. The US political and military actions on the  Central American countries were based on distorted interpretations of what it seemed to be communist implementations advancing on political ground, and fears of consequent socialist-like state expropriation over American economic interests in the region, way after the Cold War ended.

     Affected civilians of the time, terrorized about being recruited by the country’s limited rebellion's defense caused an overwhelming wave of immigration in 1970s and 1980s on, paradoxically, the American States. This seemingly incongruous civilian move towards seeking US political asylum is largely caused by both, an immediate need of income, and a lack of information due to the generally low education of the region, since approximately three-fourths of the Central Americans have less than a high-school education. Evidence of the statistical data, annals of immigration studies, the Bureau of Citizenship and immigration Services office archives, journals, and scholarly essays state that, combatants conscripting new ‘recruits’ on the Central American region did not discriminate by gender; the civil wars made mothers and female college students politically active, thus, at risk of persecution and disappearances. The passage of Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA)  made obtaining a job much more difficult task, since applicants then needed to provide legal evidence of their right to work in the U.S. The battle for status has defined the geography of settlement and the dynamics of transnational circulation. 
The Salvadoran and Guatemalan communities, while legally unable to physically circulate, have developed a unique transnationalism; truncated in that their legal status inhibits actual transmigrant circulation, economies of El Salvador and Guatemala, have become dependent of their remittances and governments have joined the battle for their immigrant’s legal status. Among Central Americans, legal status affects social status and identity. Central American identities are related to one’s legal status; these statuses include naturalized or native-born citizen, permanent resident, ABC or TPS, and undocumented migrant.
          Panamanians have the largest proportion of native-born; many of those born in the Canal Zone, which would be interpreted as U.S. citizens. Both Panamanians and Costa Ricans are the most likely to be naturalized as U.S. citizens due to the special relationships that held with U.S.
        The largest Central American population settlements are concentrated in Los Angeles and Houston along with Mexican communities. 
          Following the micro-structural networks that sustain the Migrations Systems Theory, we found that EEUU/Latin American relations grew significantly in the cultural field during the last half of the 20th Century, fact that facilitated later immigration. In a number of respects, Latin Americans have some familiarity with American culture before they arrived to the US. The ‘Good Neighbor Policy’ not only resulted in the removal of U.S. Marines from Nicaragua in 1934, but in a huge cultural influence in Latin America.
         The policy's cultural impact included the initiation of the radio program ‘Viva America’, the 1942 Walt Disney film ‘Saludos Amigos’, and the implementation of the Latin American figure in all Hollywood films, most notably, that of Carmen Miranda. At first her image was meant to entertain the unemployed ex-combatants returning home from the recent US Asian wars, and to raise spirits spread by a depressed American economy with the exuberant tropical imagery of Central America. She was encouraged by the United States government as part of Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy, designed to strengthen links with Latin America; it was believed that in delivering content like hers, the policy would be better received by the American public. 

        Her Hollywood image, although heavily criticized for giving in to American commercialism and projecting a false image of Latin American cultures, was one of a generic Latinness that blurred the distinctions between Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, and Mexico as well as between samba, tango and habanera. However, by the end of World War II, Latin America was, according to one historian, the region of the world most supportive of American foreign policy.

            During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States periodically intervened militarily in Latin American nations to protect its interests, particularly the commercial interests of the American business community. Identifying and analyzing the major foreign policies implemented by the 
Reagan administration in the 1980s and its pursuits in the Central Latin American region in the name of democratization would aid to evaluate whether the United States helped or harmed the return of democratization to the region, and if U.S. politics were based on overall inadequate conception of political participation towards Latin America or not.

         As historically the immigrant is generally seen as a threat to national identity, inadequate governmental programs of inclusion foster ground for racial discrimination, social neglect, negation of civil and human rights, emergence of the black market and/or parallel economy, support for indentured servitude, social alienation, and violence, when too often migration is, inadvertently, a direct consequence of prior political actions between the groups involved.


  1. Some of these photos bring back memories of my year spent in Guatemala.
    Well done and thanks for sharing...

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