Statement for the Record: Renewing the United States’ Commitment to Addressing the Root Causes of Migration from Central America

There is no single cause of this massive migration, nor is there an easy, comprehensive solution. Nevertheless, it is an increasingly urgent problem that must be addressed, and key policy changes have become imperative.

April 14, 2021 • Testimony

Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security,
Migration and International Economic Policy

Committee on Foreign Affairs
United States House of Representatives

Dear Chairman Sires, Ranking Member Green, and Members of the Subcommittee:

I’m Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow in defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. I wish to express my appreciation for the opportunity to submit this statement in connection with the April 14 hearing, titled “Renewing the United States’ Commitment to Addressing the Root Causes of Migration from Central America.”

The subcommittee is addressing a crucial and emotionally wrenching issue facing the United States. We continue to see thousands of migrants, primarily from Central America, reaching our southern border every week. In March 2021, authorities detained more than 172,000 people at that border. The total included some 19,000 unaccompanied minors, mostly individuals in their mid‐​teens, but some who are even younger. According to an April 11, 2021, article in the New York Times, officials fear that by June they could be called upon to provide continuing care for more than 35,000 children and adolescents in that category.

There is no single cause of this massive migration, nor is there an easy, comprehensive solution. Nevertheless, it is an increasingly urgent problem that must be addressed, and key policy changes have become imperative.

Some of the Central American migrants who make the nearly 1,500-mile trek through Mexico to the United States do so for the same reason that generations before them from around the world sought a new home and a fresh start: the perception that economic opportunities are far greater here than they are in their home countries. That factor may be especially powerful for immigrants coming from Central America’s “northern tier” countries: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. The level of poverty in those nations is severe, as per capita gross domestic product

(GDP) figures from 2019 confirm. Guatemala’s per capita GDP was $4,620 and El Salvador’s $4,187. The figures for Honduras and Nicaragua were even lower—$2,575 and $1,913, respectively. The comparable figure for the United States was $65,298. It is hardly surprising that this country would be a magnet for Central America’s economically beleaguered populations.

However, there is another factor that is at least as important in being a driving force for the migration—especially over the past decade or so. Many Central Americans are fleeing appalling levels of corruption and violence, much of it associated with the trade in illegal drugs and the U.S.-orchestrated campaign to suppress that commerce

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