The Root Cause of Central American Migration? The United StatesRoundup
tags: immigration, Latin American history, Central American History, Undocumented Immigration
Aviva Chomsky is professor of history at Salem State University in Massachusetts and the author of Central America's Forgotten History: Revolution, Violence, and the Roots of Migration.
Approximately six months in, the Biden administration has proposed a strange combination of policies to address immigration. President Biden’s proposals contain humanitarian measures: a path to legal status for the undocumented individuals in the United States, rebuilding the asylum process and bolstering legal paths for Central American migration. Yet, they also blend in anti-immigrant hard-line sentiment, epitomized by Vice President Harris’s recent admonition to Central Americans: “Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border.”
And it’s not just words: The Biden administration is aggressively pushing border enforcement southward, enlisting Mexican, Guatemalan and Honduran authorities to militarize their own southern borders and to increase what’s blandly known as “interior enforcement.”
Finally, there’s Biden’s “Plan to Build Security and Prosperity in Partnership with the People of Central America.” While claiming to address the “root causes” of migration, including poverty, violence and corruption, the plan actually reasserts a long-standing bipartisan approach to the region: bringing “progress” to unruly people of color through foreign investment backed up by military force. The United States has used this playbook repeatedly, such as with the 19th century’s “Manifest Destiny,” the early 20th century’s “dollar diplomacy” and the recent drug wars.
Biden is on the right track by acknowledging that the causes of immigration have a lot to do with conditions on the ground in Central America. But what he, like many others before him, conveniently ignores is that it is precisely this U.S. domination, foreign investment and military force that are the “root causes” of the conditions on the ground that the policy purports to overcome.
For the past century and a half, Central America has been subject to the whims of U.S. corporations backed by the U.S. government. In the 19th century, U.S. adventurers and filibusters invaded Central America, settled there and advertised the region as an easy route to the California Gold Rush. Starting at the end of the century, the United Fruit Company developed massive banana plantations along the Caribbean coast and established regular shipping routes in the region, taking advantage of cheap land and labor and creating a market for bananas in the United States.
As the United States became more of a world power around the turn of the 20th century, it relied upon the Monroe Doctrine (1820s), which warned Europeans against interfering in the hemisphere, and the Roosevelt Corollary (1900s), which claimed the right to exercise “international police power” when U.S. investments were threatened to drive out European imperial competitors and take control of Central America’s finances. The U.S. empire in the region included territorial occupation and political meddling: The U.S. Marines occupied Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933 to protect private U.S. interests and canal-building options, setting the stage for its U.S.-trained leader, Anastasio Somoza, to install a decades-long family dictatorship.
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