Mi­grants mo­ti­vated by money, not safety

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

The Cen­tral Amer­i­cans surg­ing into the U.S. and claim­ing asy­lum look a lot more like reg­u­lar il­le­gal im­mi­grants, ea­ger for bet­ter jobs or to re­unite with fam­i­lies, than tra­di­tional refugees flee­ing per­se­cu­tion or vi­o­lence back home, ac­cord­ing to a re­port last week that chal­lenges con­ven­tional wis­dom on the mi­grants’ mo­tives.

Although they are of­ten re­ferred to as asy­lum-seek­ers, few of the mi­grants from Gu­atemala, Hon­duras and El Sal­vador — the chief send­ing coun­tries — are likely to end up win­ning asy­lum in the U.S., ac­cord­ing to the study by aca­demics at the Na­tional Cen­ter for Risk and Eco­nomic Anal­y­sis of Ter­ror­ism Events at the Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, and the In­sti­tute for De­fense Analy­ses.

Adults are most likely to come for bet­ter jobs, the re­searchers said. They can im­prove their in­comes by 1,200 per­cent by mov­ing from Cen­tral Amer­ica to the U.S. Chil­dren, mean­while, are com­ing for eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties and to re­unite with fam­ily al­ready in the U.S., they con­cluded.

“The stan­dard wis­dom [that] it’s all about vi­o­lence could not be sup­ported by our data,” said Det­lof von Win­ter­feldt, a re­searcher at the Cal­i­for­nia uni­ver­sity’s cen­ter.

The aca­demics also found that pol­icy de­bates in Mex­ico and the U.S. do cor­re­late with surges in mi­gra­tion, with flash points such as Pres­i­dent Obama’s 2012 De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals pro­gram and the 2013 Se­nate de­bate over le­gal­iz­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants be­ing fol­lowed by in­creases in Cen­tral Amer­i­cans at­tempt­ing to en­ter the U.S. with­out per­mis­sion.

By con­trast, ex­pec­ta­tions of tough en­force­ment at the be­gin­ning of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion cor­re­lated with a his­toric drop in il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

For years, the two sides in the im­mi­gra­tion de­bate have sparred over the change in de­mo­graph­ics. Mex­i­cans, who used to make up nearly all of the unau­tho­rized flow across the south­west­ern bor­der, have dis­si­pated, but the num­ber of Cen­tral Amer­i­cans has soared this decade.

Im­mi­grant rights ac­tivists say the Cen­tral Amer­i­cans are asy­lum-seek­ers flee­ing hor­rific gang vi­o­lence and gov­ern­ment in­dif­fer­ence back home. They point to homi­cide rates as key ev­i­dence for the “push fac­tor.”

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, though, ar­gues that the “pull fac­tors” of fam­ily al­ready in the U.S., the chance for bet­ter jobs and the low risks of be­ing turned back are more im­por­tant.

The Home­land Se­cu­rity De­part­ment, which sup­ported the re­search, said the re­port shows mixed ev­i­dence on vi­o­lence as a fac­tor and that the ev­i­dence on the pulls is more clear.

The re­searchers put data be­hind what an­a­lysts have long guessed: Mi­grants from Cen­tral Amer­ica ap­pear to have fig­ured out how to nav­i­gate U.S. hu­man­i­tar­ian laws to their own ben­e­fit.

Some­time around 2012, ju­ve­niles and fam­i­lies be­gan to change their pat­terns. Rather than sneak into the U.S. and hope to dis­ap­pear, most be­gan to show up and present them­selves to the first au­thor­i­ties they could find and ask for asy­lum.

Though rel­a­tively few were likely to win those claims, just ask­ing for asy­lum “ba­si­cally guar­an­teed” en­try for ju­ve­niles and made en­try “more likely than not” for adults.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is push­ing Cen­tral Amer­i­cans with le­git­i­mate asy­lum claims to make them in Mex­ico, which is con­sid­ered a “safe” coun­try. But the re­port ex­plained why that is not likely.

The mi­grants won’t be able to earn as much in Mex­ico, and the fam­ily net­works of Gu­atemalans, Hon­durans and Sal­vado­rans don’t ex­ist in the same num­bers in Mex­ico as they do in the U.S., mak­ing the coun­try a path­way in­stead of a des­ti­na­tion.

“These find­ings sug­gest that there will be very lit­tle di­ver­sion of asy­lum seeker flow from the United States to Mex­ico if seek­ing asy­lum in the United States is not an op­tion,” the study con­cluded.

The aca­demics used myr­iad yard­sticks to reach their con­clu­sions, in­clud­ing sur­veys of how peo­ple per­ceive vi­o­lence in their coun­tries, polling of mi­grants and their mo­ti­va­tions, and em­ploy­ment con­di­tions.

They asked ques­tions about the cost­ben­e­fit anal­y­sis mi­grants are likely mak­ing about mov­ing to a safer place within their own coun­try, mov­ing to Mex­ico, or mov­ing to the U.S. They con­cluded that few peo­ple who leave their home coun­try in Cen­tral Amer­ica will move to Mex­ico be­cause the av­er­age wage in­crease is only 10 per­cent.

Mi­grants in the U.S., though, re­ceive a 1,200 per­cent wage in­crease, which makes the trip far more worth it.

The study was re­leased after an­other re­port by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter con­cluded that over­all il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion to the U.S. dropped in 2016 to 10.7 mil­lion, down from a peak of 12.2 mil­lion in 2007 and reach­ing the low­est lev­els since 2004.

Fu­el­ing the drop is a ma­jor de­cline in the num­ber of Mex­i­can il­le­gal im­mi­grants, from nearly 7 mil­lion in 2007 to fewer than 5.5 mil­lion in 2016. South Amer­ica’s unau­tho­rized mi­grant pop­u­la­tion also dropped by nearly 250,000 peo­ple.

But the num­ber of il­le­gal im­mi­grant Cen­tral Amer­i­cans — chiefly Hon­durans, Sal­vado­rans and Gu­atemalans — has surged by 25 per­cent over the past decade, clos­ing in on 2 mil­lion.

Asia, the Mid­dle East and Africa re­mained largely un­changed over the decade, Pew es­ti­mated.

Of the 10.7 mil­lion, the re­searchers said, more than 1 mil­lion have gained ten­ta­tive sta­tus through pro­grams such as the Obama-era DACA pol­icy or hu­man­i­tar­ian Tem­po­rary Pro­tected Sta­tus.

Pew also said there are marked dif­fer­ences in how il­le­gal im­mi­grants reach the U.S.

While most Mex­i­cans and Cen­tral Amer­i­cans jumped the bor­der with­out per­mis­sion, those from else­where usu­ally came on le­gal visas and re­fused to leave when their time ex­pired.


A Hon­duran mi­grant con­verses with U.S bor­der agents on the other side of ra­zor wire after they fired tear gas at mi­grants pres­sur­ing to cross into the U.S. from Ti­juana, Mex­ico. Few of the mi­grants from Gu­atemala, Hon­duras and El Sal­vador — the chief send­ing coun­tries — are likely to end up win­ning asy­lum in the U.S.

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