Sunday, June 24, 2018

Central American Immigration and Falsehoods

It is a difficult time to be even somewhat knowledgeable about Latin American immigration to the United States. The number of myths and falsehoods is exponentially greater than at any time I can remember. I feel most frustrated when the national conversation is driven in large part by beliefs that immigration can be understood in episodic rather than structural terms.

I co-authored a book in 2010 on the importance of demography for understanding how Latin American immigration works. I won't rehash that (and of course demography has continued its eternal evolution since then) but it's a reminder that structural forces matter a lot.

History matters a lot too. In the book, we did not spend much time on the history of US-Latin American relations, for example. Joseph Nevins, a geographer at Vassar who has published a lot on immigration, has a post about the impact of decades of U.S. policy toward Honduras. The U.S. response to the 2009 coup had a powerful impact on emigration, which sped up as a result of the chaos the coup and aftermath unleashed, both politically and economically. These are push factors, which were present for many years but the Obama administration made them worse, though not through immigration policy per se. The same is true of the Reagan administration's funding of war in El Salvador. Both of those policies were based on ideology.

Thus, the arguments now about why Hondurans (or indeed other Central Americans) are coming are almost all false. They are not coming because they want to exploit loopholes. DACA didn't make them come. Attacking families will not serve as a deterrent. And certainly their stories of sadness and grief are not fake.

But when the President of the United States and other top officials repeat false claims on a daily basis, people who see themselves as rational and reasonable start believing them too.


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