The 2016 United States presidential elections, and later the policies implemented by Donald Trump with the closing of the borders, have generated great collateral effects in the Central and Latin America regions.
Since the end of 2015, there has been an increase in the migratory traffic in this area, with people coming from different countries in Africa, Asia and some islands of the Caribbean.
The migrants aim to reach the United States before the change of government, who intends on tightening immigration policies. The threat of the construction of a wall on the country’s southern border with Mexico has produced a “call effect” that accelerated the migratory flux before Donald Trump’s immigration policies begin to run effectively and end up hindering their chances of, say, living “the American dream”.
Since November 2015, Nicaragua has also closed its southern border with Costa Rica. The closure was issued to prevent the entry of 8,000 Cuban migrants seeking to cross the territory in order to continue their journey to the United States.
With that in mind, the Costa Rican government tried to create a human corridor between the countries of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico, in order to displace the initial contingent of Cubans. However, the possible solution was rejected by the Nicaraguan government.
In March 2016, the Costa Rican government reached agreements with the government of Mexico to send the first group of Cubans who had been living on the northern border of Costa Rica with Nicaragua for over 4 months. There were already 5500 people waiting to be sent to Mexico, in the vicinities of the border with the United States. All shipping costs were covered by the government of Costa Rica.
Just a month after Cubans were sent from Costa Rica to Mexico, the government of Panama also attempted to ditch 3,500 Cubans who were in the country’s territory, but the Mexican government refused to continue to function as an airlift for migrants. Also in the municipality of Turbo, in Colombia, 1270 Cubans had been waiting for the government of Colombia to send them to Mexico by through the air route.
The governments of Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia attempted to send Cuban migrants to Mexico because they could profit from the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA): a law passed in 1966 that allows Cubans on US soil to become permanent residents after a year of permanence, even without any entry visa.
This closure generated a monstrous “humanitarian crisis” in Central America, especially in Costa Rica, where thousands of migrants are located from different countries of Africa, Asia, and some Caribbean Islands. There, they stay, waiting to bypass Nicaragua to continue their journey to the United States, where they hope to find better life opportunities for themselves and their families. The effects of this migratory crisis are reflected in several areas. This crisis has deteriorated the diplomatic relations between Nicaragua and Costa Rica and others countries affected by this migratory crisis.
In 2016, Costa Rica began to apply for visas to people who enter their country on the borders with Panama. It is worth mentioning that no migrants who are in Panamanian territory apply to have an entry visa in Costa Rica.
The Costa Rican government has steadfastly refused to receive more Cubans after having 7800 Islanders during an extended stay in which the government assumed the costs of food and medical care. Panama, in turn, closed its borders with Colombia. The Panamanian authorities returned to Colombia hundreds of migrants, most of them Africans, who tried to enter the country after the recent closure of the border with their South American neighbor.
Likewise, Colombia deported thousands of irregular immigrants who had entered the border between Colombia and Ecuador. As a result of all that has happened, Ecuador and Brazil are implementing income visas to their territory to people from Cuba, Haiti, and several African countries.
The human smuggling business
As a side effect of these policies, migrants have been falling into networks of human trafficking. Thousands have resorted to the so-called “coyotes” or “smugglers”, who serve as guides to undocumented people for crossing the border illegally, in exchange for a certain amount of money.
Many migrants have been deceived by the coyotes, who promise to leave them on the northern border of Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, etc., but end up abandoning them in mountainous, isolated areas – a considerable danger for the group, who do not know the territory and in many cases don’t even understand the language. In August 2016, eight bodies of African immigrants were found floating in a lake located near the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
The closure of the borders has reenacted the human smuggling business from Brazil and Ecuador to Mexico through the entire Central American region. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that as many as 20,000 Africans are currently in transit to Costa Rica, from different parts of the South American continent, as part of a trip whose final destination is the United States. These migrants are at constant risk of falling into traffickers’ traps.
The proximity of the Central American region to the United States creates a domino effect which has been overlooked. Whilst a well-deserved spotlight is set on Middle Eastern and Muslim citizens and what they have been going through, it is important to shed light on how these border closure policies also have an effect on other parts of the world. One may think the new presidency in the United States is an isolated problem. But, when it comes down to it, his policies have been prompting countries in South and Central America to adopt similar methods and generating an unprecedented domino effect of migratory and humanitarian crisis throughout the world.