Political, Economic Tumult Preceded Central America Migrant Influx

By Llewellyn Hinkes Jones

Immigration to the United States has been declining over the last ten years as fewer Mexican citizens attempt to cross the border.

But since 2010, there has been an influx from Central America’s North Triangle: Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

The growth is regularly attributed to instability and criminal gangs in the region along with the world’s highest murder rates. Yet political and economic turmoil, particularly in Honduras, in 2010 has also played a part.

That year saw numerous labor disputes around the textile industry in the region, a large drop in textile exports to the U.S., as well as a coup in Honduras tacitly supported by the Clinton State Department.

With the new Honduran president came a massive devaluation of their currency, the Lempira. The currency devaluation and subsequent growth in immigration has led to a 50 percent increase in remittances—payments back to a foreign resident’s home country—as well as a spike in asylum requests, ostensibly related to the high murder rate.

Yet while reported murder rates are high, the statistics are inconsistent with reported death rates and could be misleading.

Labor Disputes Under Zelaya

Honduras is home to a large textile industry for international brands, and numerous labor disputes broke out in 2009.

Russell Athletics closed a plant employing 1,800 people and declined to pay severances after many of the employees unionized and entered into a contract dispute with management. The factory also produced clothes for other major retailers including Nike.

Potentially because of the factory closing, textile imports from Honduras to the U.S. dropped 20 percent in 2009.

The next year, Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, who aligned himself with leftist Bolivarianism, was deposed in a coup following a scandal over Constitutional rule changes.

While U.S. law requires that military coups immediately trigger a denouncement of the coup and cessation of all foreign aid to the country.

But then-Secretary of State Clinton never denounced the coup and State department communications released by Wikileaks indicated that she didn’t want to denounce it. Instead, Clinton supported the incoming president Roberto Micheletti.

Clinton’s Textile Base

Clinton received large donations to both her presidential election and the nonprofit Clinton Foundation around the same time by large companies importing textiles from Honduras.

That includes between $2-$10 million from Wal-Mart and $500,000-$1million from Nike to the Clinton Foundation. Apparel and department stores gave a combined $628,305 to Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016, much more than Trump received from the industry according to a story in WWD.

Devalued Currency Came with New Administration

With the new administration, the incoming president swiftly devalued the Lempira dramatically.

For many years, the Lempira was fixed with the American dollar through most of the 80s at 2-to-1.

But it was substantially devalued beginning in 1989 to the point that by 2004 the ratio was over 18-to-1.

Under Zelaya’s reign, the Lempira stayed fixed, but with the coup it was yet again devalued to almost a 24-to-1 ratio.

Immigration Parallels Currency Devaluation

Similarly, as the Honduran currency stayed fixed relative to the dollar, so did immigration to the U.S.

Before 1981, less than 43,000 migrants from Honduras entered the U.S. per year according to numbers from the World Bank.

By 1990, it was over 120,000. By 2000, it was almost 289,000. And since 2010 it increased 39 percent to 610,000 migrants per year in 2017.

Remittances Follow Immigration

Money sent from the U.S. back to Honduras has also followed suit, going from $2.3 billion in 2010 to $3.8 billion in 2017, a 64 percent jump.

An analysis by the Pew Research Center shows that all three countries are in the top ten for remittances, with a combined total of over $14 billion in 2016.

Asylum Requests Spike

The Northern Triangle has seen its fair share of instability and violence, like that surrounding the civil war in El Salvador in the 1980s, and El Salvador has always had a substantially high murder rate.

But asylum requests from various countries has always tended to be low, with less than 600 requests per year.

That all changed in 2015 when there were a thousand more asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, but not other Central American countries like Nicaragua.

The Northern Triangle now accounts for over 30 percent of all asylum seekers to the U.S.

Large Discrepancy in Mortality Statistics

The North Triangle has had the highest murder rates in the world in recent years following political and economic tumult according to numbers from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

But the vast number of reported homicides do not appear to have affected related statistics on the respective countries’ overall rates of death.

Mortality rates for those countries have been on a downward trend over the last fifty years and is currently similar to other nearby countries not experiencing a sudden spike in violence, like Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

For 2016, El Salvador’s homicide rate (82.54 per 100,000 inhabitants) is over ten times that of Nicaragua (7.37). There were days in 2015 with over 20 murders.

For Honduras, the homicide rate almost doubled between 2006 and 2010. But the death rate went down over the same time period. Based on estimated population of 7.5 million (2006) and 7.6 million (2010), that would mean approximately 2,665 more homicides in 2010 than 2006 that didn’t affect the overall death rate.

Despite the ongoing slaughter, both countries rank relatively low in the CIA’s mortality rate statistics. El Salvador is 176th and Honduras 180th out of 230 countries.

Published: November 27, 2018