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Push and Pull: the Forces that Drive Immigrants to Risk Everything to Come to the United States Part Two

In my last blog I explained that there are multiple causes to our immigration dilemma here in the United States. Some of these causes have their genesis in the U.S., and encourage people to risk it all to come here, I have coined these causes, pull factors. There are also strong influences present in almost every country in the world that encourage residents of those nations to want to leave, these are push factors. So in countries where there are strong push factors and similarly strong pull factors to the U.S., we see the largest migration of people seeking to enter the United States legally or otherwise.

Here is a prime example of where strong push and pull factors combine to create the immigration and humanitarian crisis that we saw at the Southwest Border last summer.

Murder rates in three Central American countries, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are outrageously high relative to the rest of the world. Accordingly, personal and financial security are extremely low in these three places. Those are very strong push factors; if you don’t know if you or your family has a future because you could be killed or kidnapped tomorrow, why go to school, why get an education, why go to work, why save up money just to lose it all to violence? People in these three countries have a strong incentive to want to leave and find a better life somewhere else. In addition to those strong push factors, there are multiple equally strong pull factors that encourage those fleeing Central America to choose to come to the U.S. rather than seeking safety and security in different country.

Misinformation based on half-truths is an extremely powerful and useful pull factor that unscrupulous criminals and exploiters use to victimize desperate families in Central America. Smugglers tell the families in these countries, “pay us thousands of dollars and we can help get you and/or your kids to the U.S.” Once the kids come to the U.S. border, if they don’t have a parent with them, then according to U.S. law, immigration officers cannot just reject them, they have to let the unaccompanied minors into the county. The children may be detained for a while, but eventually they will be released if they have any friends or relatives in the U.S. and they will be eligible for social services. The smugglers know this, and our generous laws that help unaccompanied children are used against the desperate families and become pull factors. Many of the children who begin the perilous journey to the U.S. from Central America do not make it, and if they do many are victims of some of the most horrific criminal acts imaginable. The number of children attempting to enter the U.S. without authorization from these three countries was up between 300 and 600 percent from the year before.

These same pull factors exist for children from any country other than Mexico and Canada (unaccompanied minors from these two countries can be deported much more easily). However, in countries where there is no comparable push factor encouraging people to leave, we do not see the same huge numbers of migrants coming to the U.S. Other Central American countries like Costa Rica, Panama, and Belize do not have the tremendous poverty or quite the same violence of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, therefore the same push factors are not present. A country like Nicaragua, which is just a poor economically as the three strong push countries does not have quite the violence that they have, therefore, there are not as many Nicaraguans feeling pushed to the United States, even though the pull factors are just as strong.

There is also the misinformation that President Obama is letting any immigrant child who entered the U.S. under the age of 16 stay in the U.S. and work. This false rumor is loosely based on the Presidents 2012 Executive Order creating DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). The smugglers summarize DACA as anything that will convince the desperate families to pay the money and turn over their children. Unfortunately for the bamboozled families, none of the children who came to the U.S. last summer for the first time will qualify for DACA.

The misinformation is just one of the pull factors that attract people from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala and this is just one example of the Push/Pull scenario. This same dynamic works on other countries too, like Cuba, Haiti, China and others. I will provide more examples for how this works for these countries in blogs to come.

John Gihon is an immigration and criminal defense attorney with the law offices of Shorstein, Lasnetski & Gihon. John is a former Assistant State Attorney and Senior Attorney with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He now helps people defend themselves against criminal prosecution and deportation. You can follow John on Twitter at @JohnGihon, or reach him at john@slgattorneys.com