Leaving Home to Find Peace
By Aariana Wilson
The area known as the Northern Triangle includes Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. These countries are plagued by a number of different internal turmoils. These issues have been building up for some time now and continue to present major problems. For example, Guatemala has a long history of poverty and violence. Still, efforts continue to be made to fix these issues.
Central Americans have been coming to the United States seeking safety for decades. Many people from these countries face daily struggles such as gang violence, poverty, lack of food, and clean water. This makes the overall environment difficult to simply live in.
Abel Rodriguez, J.D., an immigration lawyer and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Cabrini University, says that people in the U.S. and the governments of these Central American countries are trying to put initiatives in place to work on the gang issues. However, it is such an intractable problem that the current reality is that people are still forced to flee gang violence.
NBC reports, the “Northern Triangle of Latin America — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — came to Americans' attention in full force in 2014, when tens of thousands of children arrived on their own at the U.S. border.”
Nuru International, a U.S. based social venture that aims to end extreme poverty, claims that more than half of Guatemalans live in poverty. And 23 percent live in extreme poverty -- meaning people live on less than $1.25 a day.
Guatemalan people flee to the U.S. searching for a better life for themselves and their families. Today, the number of unauthorized immigrants from Guatemala are the lowest they have been in the U.S. since 1970’s. However, the number of families seeking asylum has risen. TRAC , a data research, gathering, and distribution organization, reports that by the end of September 2016, overall asylum denial rates in the U.S. had risen to 57 percent. This shows that people are coming either to seek opportunities or safety.
Rodriguez says less than 5 percent of asylum claims are granted by the U.S. government. Therefore, the vast majority of people with a very genuine fear of gang recruitment who have been threatened in their home country do not have a legal remedy for remaining in the U.S. They face being deported back to the places where they experienced violence.
According to CNN , Guatemalans have a history of emigrating legally and illegally to Mexico, the U.S. and Canada because of a lack of economic opportunity, political instability, and natural disasters.
These “push” factors such as poverty, malnutrition, death threats, and gang violence in Guatemala have become more problematic.
Rodriguez says some push factors that are bringing people to the U.S. are global inequality, which leads people to flee crushing poverty in their home countries, and they go places where they many find better opportunities.
CIA World Factbook states the almost half of Guatemalan children under age 5 are chronically malnourished. Guatemala has one of the highest malnutrition rates.
Some Americans are fearful that immigrants coming to the U.S. will bring this violence with them. However, sources say that immigrants are less likely than native born citizens to commit crimes and violent offenses once immigrated.
Efforts to stop or redirect youth being recruited into gangs such as MS-13 and 18th street have been underway in Guatemala. One such organization that is working to make a difference is Friends of San Lucas. This mission builds homes, creates safe spaces for women to do everyday basic chores, and helps create jobs for the people of Guatemala.
Bill Peterson, the executive director of Friends of San Lucas Mission, says that one of the misunderstandings is that people are so quick to react to the statistics and facts that they don’t listen to the people. There are real themes of poverty and violence but mostly this trend doesn’t take place in the small rural towns that he’s familiar with.
Friends of San Lucas invites visitors from all over the world to come and immerse themselves in rural Guatemalan life. They have created jobs for farmers through their coffee program. Their workers are paid a good wage for their crops and in turn find job security.
They also have clinics that provide healthcare services for several of the surrounding communities. This way they support the communities’ well being and overall health.
Another notable program is their school. The school gives opportunities to hundreds of children and enable them to reach their full potential. Friends of San Lucas is just one organization that is fighting within Guatemala to support communities that face tremendous push factors.
Guatemala and countries in the Northern Triangle are surrounded by issues that can cause people to leave. However, these countries also have many effective programs that offer support when needed. It is important to realize, however, that for some families, leaving is their only option.