Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

U.S. policies are a significant cause of the migrant crisis

What is missing from the immigration debate is how U.S. foreign policies in Central America contribute to the mass immigration symbolized by the caravan moving northward.

photo of central american migrants wading river
REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Simply put, U.S. foreign policies and interventions for the last 100 years have retarded the economic and social development of Central American nations.
What is missing from the immigration debate is how U.S. foreign policies in Central America contribute to the mass immigration symbolized by the immigrant caravan. Wisely, Americans have become increasingly aware that U.S. governments of both major parties have lied to us about foreign policy decisions, yet they remain less aware of how these policies impact immigration. I offer a short history of events to make this link.

Wayne Nealis

As well, for those who think we should reduce immigration, including our president, I would like to suggest a few remedies. Let me acknowledge that reasonable questions can be asked of the asylum claims of some individuals in the immigrant caravan. Yet it’s U.S. foreign policies that have contributed to the underdevelopment and violence in Central American nations these people are fleeing.

In Central American nations, successive U.S. governments have taken the side of corrupt businesses and military leaders and landowners, instead of supporting the struggles of workers, small farmers and indigenous peoples for democracy, land reform and human rights. Business leaders in these nations, as well as foreign firms, have, with few exceptions, simply exploited cheap labor and mineral resources, instead of developing infrastructure, education, health care and social security systems.

A significant cause of the migrant crisis

Simply put, U.S. foreign policies and interventions for the last 100 years have retarded the economic and social development of these nations. Such policies are a significant cause of the migrant crisis.

Article continues after advertisement

In recent decades, the U.S. has armed mercenary groups against the aspirations of the Nicaraguan people and supported ruthless regimes in Guatemala and El Salvador who terrorized their own citizens. Millions fled their countries, who might otherwise have stayed to build housing, schools and infrastructure to improve their own country.

Our political, military and intelligence officials lied to us about these disastrous interventions in the same way the G.W. Bush administration lied about reasons for invading Iraq and Obama lied about our attacking Libya. Today, Trump lies about what is taking place Venezuela. In fact, we could call all this, fake news.

As we know, many in the caravan are from Honduras. In 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama gave tacit support to corrupt Honduran coup leaders, instead of lending support to the elected government of Honduras. In 2017, the same coup leaders stole another election. Honduran workers, the poor and indigenous are rightly angry. They have tried to change their country for the better, only to be undermined by our government.

Economic development

Instead of such policies, we could be aiding the development of these nations. Not with gifts, but with sound economic development projects that create jobs for American workers and improve the lives of the people of these nations. The first task would be to cut off all military aid to these nations and shift it into economic development funds. Next, offer loans for development projects, with little or no interest, that put the needs of people first and profits a distant second. These steps would send a ray of hope across these nations and signal the U.S. will no longer tolerate human-rights abuses, dictators and corrupt business leaders.

American firms and workers could be partners in eradicating poverty and encouraging and funding development. Technically this is simple; politically it takes leadership that is lacking here and among the elite in most of these nations. This is the route to making amends for our past foreign policies. With hope in a brighter future people will be inclined to stay and work in their own country.

Instead our government continues to interfere in the internal affairs of these nations, and on the wrong side. Witness the sanctions and economic war against the people of Venezuela who are trying to develop their nation. Once again, we are being lied to. Venezuela is no threat to the American people. If they want to try some form of socialism it should be their sovereign right to do so. Instead of sanctions we could be trading with Venezuela to create U.S. jobs in the oil, gas and mineral equipment manufacturing sectors. Thus, from Bush to Trump, U.S. economic sanctions have stood in the way of creating good American manufacturing jobs.

A path toward peaceful development

So, for starters, if Trump wants to create jobs he should open the U.S. for business with Venezuela and Cuba. Then he should set up a Central American development bank with a board that represents stakeholders in each nation, U.S. union and business leaders. Once operating, it would call on businesses to submit requests for proposals of financially sound projects designed to improve the lives of the millions represented by those in the caravan. As my old boss used to say, it is a win-win, no brainer solution.

A businessman like Donald Trump surely can do the numbers. In fact, any American manufacturing worker, union leader, plant manager, engineer or accountant can do so. The problem the American people face is finding leaders who have the courage, imagination and foresight to chart a path toward peaceful development of those in most need in the hemisphere. Such a change in foreign policy will also bring prosperity to those Americans in need of well-paying jobs.

Wayne Nealis is a writer and long-time single payer activist and former union activist living in Minneapolis.


Article continues after advertisement

If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)