Behind the Border Crisis


Laura Shaban

2,030 miles. From Cuilapa, Guatemala to El Paso, Texas. 2,030 miles until a family can finally be reunited. Until a mother can sigh in relief that her sons will not be involved in gang violence, and her daughters will fall victim to femicide. But her worries are far from over once they enter America; a country that prides itself on its inclusive and opportunistic fabric sewn together with seams that ignore and turn away thousands in desperation. Here, instead of gangs, there is I.C.E., and instead of femicide, there is bigotry.  

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, people have had more time and opportunity than ever before to learn about and fight against systemic issues in America. Movements have gained traction domestically as well as gaining international attention during the lockdown. However, America’s chronically ineffective immigration policy combined with the anti-immigration rhetoric sensationalized during the Trump administration led to the expansion of one issue in particular: the ever-growing immigration crisis at America’s Southern border. 

Thousands per day and hundreds of thousands per year travel to the U.S. Mexico border, most being families in search of better lives, and an increasing number of unaccompanied children. As the most vulnerable group crossing the border, migrant children are the only population the U.S. government currently refuses to expel from the country. A majority of these children are sent to join family already living in the U.S.; however, the sheer number of people traveling across the border has created an “immigration backlog”. The grossly inadequate detainment facilities migrants are housed in show how underprepared America is for this situation, despite being aware and attempting to address this problem for decades.

It’s well known that the path to U.S citizenship is difficult. It can take over ten years to apply, and most cannot afford to go through the legal immigration process. While popular media focuses on the eye-catching, surface-level elements of this issue, it’s difficult to recall a time when political leaders or media have spoken out about the roots of why there’s such a large number of people migrating to the United States. 

Most migrants that attempt to cross the Southern border are from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Nearly all of these migrants meet the requirements for persons “seeking asylum” according to U.S. law. But why are so many attempting to cross the border in the first place, and why are they being turned away?

To get a full perspective on this issue, we have to go back to the 19th Century, when many Central American countries gained their independence from Spanish rule. The end of Spanish rule left many of these countries in ruins; imperialistic policies left a majority of their populations landless and poor, devastating conditions for a vastly rural population. Wealthy citizens held power, and governments propped up by the elite came and went, all while average citizens suffered. This political instability was endured for centuries and spurred on by U.S. interference. In the name of protecting business interests in Central America, the U.S. government sent troops into these countries, funded rebellions against the interests of the people, and propped up military dictatorships after old governments fell. 

Crisis after crisis, war after war, Central America found itself in a world of division throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries. The breaking point in all of this, and arguably what began our modern migration crisis, was a series of civil wars that broke out in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua in the late 20th century due to American and USSR interference during the proxy wars of the Cold War. In these wars, the U.S. provided financial aid, military training, and weapons to the military dictatorships they had supported, using millions of people as pawns in its indirect fight against the USSR. During these wars, countless atrocities and human rights violations were committed by these dictatorships. And where there’s war, there’s violence, collateral damage, and refugees. A wave of migrants flooded into the United States and Mexico during and after these civil wars in hopes of escaping the danger that surrounded them. All of these conditions led to what we see today. 

Central America has struggled with political and economic instability to this day, and these issues continue to stimulate mass migration to the United States. While popular media continues to push the narrative that people seeking asylum are criminals who want to steal American jobs, the reality is that most are children and families, hoping to find a safe place to live with economic stability. Malice and hatred towards immigrants are deep-rooted within American culture, which is one reason why this humanitarian crisis at our Southern border has gone ignored for so long.

At this rate, it will take years, possibly even the entirety of this decade, to even partially address this issue. After so many years of being ignored, it will take a monumental and dedicated effort to tackle the border crisis. And even if the immediate problems with the American immigration system are fixed, there’s still the matter of the crises happening beyond our borders that must be addressed.