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Safer route to U.S. improves remittances

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Remittances from Central Americans are up this year, even though the United States economy is not particularly strong.

The explanation contradicts long-held beliefs about why and how people emigrate.

Conventional wisdom holds that people flee their countries, in order to escape a combination of insecurity and poverty.

But emigrants tend to be young and able-bodied, which means that the families, which they leave behind, are weaker and less able to deal with the problems of crime.

Nor do local economic conditions explain migration patterns.

A recent increase in the numbers of Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran migrants – who account for the growth in remittances – is not a result of more poverty in their home countries.

On the contrary, economic growth since 2008 has been stronger in Guatemala and Honduras, than in the United States, while El Salvador has been stable.

Nor are the migrants the poorest of the poor, since emigration costs money.

To get to the United States, Central Americans must cross a thousand kilometers of Mexican territory.

Even bus travel has a price, let alone the fees of the “coyotes”, who guide illegal migrants across the American border.

In this case, the change in migration patterns and remittance flows is due to a reduction in the risk of being kidnapped and held for ransom along the route.

Mexico continues to experience serious drug-related violence.

But pressure and aid from human-rights groups has made it easier to get to the United States, and Central Americans are taking advantage of the opportunity.