Albion Monitor /News

Fears in Latin America Over U.S. Deportation Rumors

by Maricel Sequeira

(IPS) SAN JOSE -- Promises made last week by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that Washington will not proceed with the massive deportation of illegal immigrants from Central America have not dispelled fears in the region.

Albright gave the U.S. commitment at a meeting with Central American foreign ministers in Washington on April 1, the same day that new U.S. immigration laws took effect.

The problems of illegal immigration and related issues will figure high on the agenda of the May 8 Summit conference between U.S. President Bill Clinton and Central American presidents.

Approximately 800,000 Guatemalan nationals live in the United States send home 6.9 percent of all the "hard currency" that enters that country
In spite of Albright's promise, Central American consulates in the United States are well aware of the near panic that the new law has instilled among Latin residents there. Honduran President Carlos Reina has already stated that Central American leaders will be asking Clinton for a "just consideration" of the immigration issue with "full protection" for Central American citizens.

In Honduras, the concern is over the possible forced return of 300,000 undocumented aliens from the United States in the event the new law is applied. Such an influx of people would exacerbate the existing problems of unemployment, violence and common crime.

Even without applying the new laws Roberto Flores, Assistant Director of Honduras' Population and Migration Policy Board, says that 400 to 500 Hondurans are deported by the United States every month. "This is nothing more than a massive expulsion that has been taking place for many years," he says.

In Nicaragua, the rumor mill ran at full speed last week with reports that between 12,000 and 20,000 Nicaraguans resident in the United States had received notices to leave the country. An estimated 200,000 Nicaraguans currently reside in the United States, of whom 60,000 lack proper documents.

Some 30 percent of all impoverished Nicaraguan families depend on remittances sent home by family members living in the United States.

Approximately 800,000 Guatemalan nationals live in the United States, of whom 185,000 are political exiles or undocumented aliens. The Research and Social Studies Association says that in 1996 remittances by Guatemalans living in the United States amounted to $375 million, or 6.9 percent of all the "hard currency" that enters that country.

Foreign Minister Eduardo Stein underscored the need to wait and see what happens, and was quick to recall Albright's promise. For Guatemala, the deportation threat held particular importance because, after 35 years of war, the country is now dealing with the problem of incorporating ex-guerrillas and superfluous military forces into civilian society.

The number of nationals from El Salvador illegally residing in the United States is estimated at 200,000. After 5 years of peace, the national economy is not strong enough to support a sharp drop in family remittances, which amount to $1 billion a year.

In Costa Rica, problems would not be economic but rather personal and social. Efren Mora, the Mayor of Perez Zeledon, a prosperous municipality in southern Costa Rica, says that every month five or six locals leave for Mexico where they then enter the United States as "wetbacks." Mora says that most of these emigrants are peasants who don't see any future in the countryside, but who are not prepared to survive life in the big city.

Mora himself lived in the United States illegally for three months. He says that "whereas in Costa Rica we work eight hours for our salary whether we work a little or a lot, in the U.S. the more you work, the more you earn.

"In the States one sees how Latins sacrifice to earn a few bucks without even the right to get sick, since if you're sick, you earn nothing and might even lose your job!"

Mora summed up his U.S. experience by noting that after three months his only dream was "to get to the airport, to board a plane, and to settle down in Costa Rica once again."

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Albion Monitor April 6, 1997 (

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