Pushing and Pulling Guatemalan Migrants Into the U.S.

A new report on migration from Guatemala to the U.S. reveals several noteworthy statistics:

  • COVID notwithstanding, cash remittances from Guatemala’s diaspora jumped to a record $15.3 billion last year. At $4.2 million per day, these personal wire transfers exceeded the value of the Latin American country’s material exports and far surpassed the government’s total tax revenues.
  • The burgeoning cash flow is all the more impressive given that Guatemala accounts for an outsized share of unaccompanied children, who, presumably, are not big wage earners.  
  • While not every Guatemalan migrant heads to the U.S., most do. Coming from a country that is perennially one of the top sending nations – no mean feat for a land of just 16 million people – an estimated 1.5 million to 3 million Guatemalans are now in America. Whether that’s the size of Dallas or bigger than Chicago, exact figures are elusive because of the large number of illegal migrants involved.

The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report, funded by USAID and the International Organization for Migration, stresses that poverty and fear of violence are driving Guatemala’s exodus. No doubt they are contributors, particularly in the dirt-poor western highlands, a busy transit corridor for northbound caravans and a profit center for cartels.

In a recent dispatch from the region, the Center for Immigration Studies reported that “73,000 angry, mobbing, rioting migrants” had crossed Guatemala’s northern border into the Mexican city of Tapachula.

Clearly, Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip to Guatemala last summer to discuss the “root causes” of migration did nothing to stanch the flow. Apparently willing to live with reduced remittances, President Alejandro Giammattei asked the U.S. “to send more of a clear message to prevent more people from leaving.” That message was neither sent nor received.

MPI’s report tries to strike a balance: recommending greater economic opportunities for beleaguered Guatemalans at home, along with more “legal pathways” into the United States. But a remark last week by USAID’s mission director in Guatemala cut to the root of the migration problem.

Anupama Rajaraman related that migrants believe they have an “80 to 90 percent” chance of successfully entering the United States. According to the facts on the ground, they’re not wrong.

Rajaraman’s nugget – not found anywhere in MPI’s 34-page report and only mentioned in passing at the end of a 75-minute briefing – is more proof that the “pull” of the Biden-Harris administration’s disastrous immigration policy is every bit as strong as any “push factor.”

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