This post offers commentary on the article, “The Root Cause of Central American Migration Is US Imperialism,” written by Suyapa Portillo Villeda and Miguel Tinker Salas, and recently published in Jacobin. Read the full piece here.
Earlier this week, Vice President Kamala Harris visited Guatemala as part of a series of foreign policy meetings regarding Central American migration. But despite the Biden administration’s promises to close the chapter on Trump-era policies by welcoming immigrants and building a more just immigration system, Harris quickly indicated that tight border restrictions are here to stay. Speaking to migrants in Central America, Harris’s message was explicit: “Do not come. Do not come.”
While Harris’s trip was ostensibly meant to begin discussions with foreign leaders around addressing the “root causes” of Central American migration, the overarching message she conveyed was that the United States will turn you back at the border if you try to come. (It’s worth noting that this is legally dubious; all migrants have a right to seek asylum at the US border under existing immigration law.) And even when discussing the “root causes” of migration, Harris continued to disappoint, focusing primarily on issues of corruption and lack of economic opportunity. As many immediately pointed out, Harris failed to recognize that the United States itself has long been one of the key actors animating these “root causes” in the first place.
In a recent Voices for New Democracy forum, scholar Miguel Tinker Salas discussed the United States’ historic record of involvement in Central America and how it continues to animate migration patterns today. He also recently published a new piece with the scholar Suyapa Portillo Villeda in Jacobin magazine elaborating on these issues in the context of the controversy Harris has provoked.
Throughout the last century, they argue, the United States has been deeply involved in shaping a neocolonial reality in Central America, as the American economy relies heavily on cheap Central American labor. With this history in mind, Harris’s gestures towards expanding economic opportunity ring hollow – another justification for American-led development and economic policy more likely to favor multinational corporations than potential migrant populations. Ultimately, if we want to get serious about root causes, we must begin with US empire.