Implications for Central America of a Trump presidency and deportations?

‘The campaign promises made by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to step up deportations of immigrants who have entered the United States without permission have unnerved some Central American governments. On Nov. 16, El Salvador’s foreign minister, Hugo Martinez, said that the countries of Central America’s Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras) plan to cooperate with Mexico to fashion a coordinated regional response to any increased pace of deportations.

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If the Trump administration fulfills the rhetoric, each of those countries could expect a significant number of returnees. Of Honduras’ 8 million citizens, more than 1 million currently reside in the United States. About 2 million of Guatamala’s 16 million nationals live in the United States. And almost half of El Salvador’s just more than 6 million people reside in the United States.

The economies of all three nations depend on remittances from these migrants: Wages sent back from the United States make up roughly 20 percent of the gross domestic product of Honduras, 17 percent of El Salvador’s and 10 percent of Guatemala’s. Mexico is in the same boat: In 2015, it received almost $25 billion in remittances, which overtook oil-related revenue in economic preeminence for the first time in the country’s history. While only 2 percent of Mexico’s GDP comes from remittances, it is is among the top five remittance recipients worldwide. This makes cooperation between the Northern Triangle countries and their neighbor natural as they prepare for potential increased U.S. deportations.

More worrying for Mexico is the President elect Trump’s claim that he will drag back industry from China and Mexico with a ‘Carrot and Stick policy. The ‘carrot’ of corporate tax reduction, a ‘one time low taxes regime’  for major US companies to repatriate funds currently held overseas, and business friendly regulation. The ‘stick’ for recalcitrant corporates and foreign regimes failing to amend claimed unfair competitive policies will be ‘tariffs’.

If plans for increased deportation are fulfilled, a proportion — however small — of those sent back will have criminal records. Currently the Obama administration has deported almost 300,000 alien felons with the ‘Safer Communities Program, and about 2 million plus other illegal immigrants to the US. A Trump administration will probably revisit the Safer Communities Program by deporting the balance of 2-3 million alien felons still residing in the US. Suggestions from within the current US nomenclature is that Trump will instigate a form of ‘Guest Worker’ documentation for the balance of resident alien illegals, that will preclude them from gaining citizenship or gaining access to social security largess. US employers of these ‘guest workers’  will be expected to administer and pay for their annual applications for Guest Worker status.

The institutions in the ‘Northern Triangle nations’ are weak due to structural issues like state corruption and narcotrafficking. And because their institutions are so weak, it is unlikely that these governments will be able to cope with high levels of criminal deportees. Such an influx could yield negative security consequences.

This is not unprecedented. In the 1990s, when the U.S. government deported thousands of undocumented immigrants with gang-related convictions to El Salvador. These returned migrants formed the nucleus of the MS-13 and Barrio 18 organized crime groups, which later expanded into Honduras and Guatemala. Today, the Northern Triangle is the most violent region in the world. A amendment to immigration laws in the US that would enforce a mandatory 5 year term, in a US Federal prison, for any illegal alien felon returnees would deter such behaviours.

Central America has already had to metabolize returns of migrants: The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama deported 2.5 million immigrants from 2009 to 2015, more than any of his predecessors. The president-elect Trump plans to deport even more, though not in the massive numbers commonly reported by the liberal MSM.

Ultimately, however, the most that the Northern Triangle countries and Mexico can do is to lobby the U.S. Congress, President and his Cabinet. The decision, however, will rest with the presidency and the agencies involved in carrying out immigration policy. Foreign lobbying will likely have little effect.