As Trump Threatens Mass Deportations, Central American Governments Stay Conspicuously Silent

Lead Photo: Photo: Casa Presidencial
Photo: Casa Presidencial
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As Mexico’s tragically ineffectual government finally starts using its big boy voice with the Trump regime, there is still a conspicuous silence emanating from the countries of Central America in the face of a looming deportation crisis. Indeed, many of the estimated three million Central American immigrants in the United States are undocumented, and a large part of the region’s currently instability can be traced back to mass deportations in the ‘90s. So one would think that their stake in the escalating hostilities would coax countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras into some form of a regional unity with their neighbor to the north.

But on the contrary, ahead of Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly’s recent visit to Guatemala, the countries of Central America’s so-called “northern triangle” hadn’t uttered an official peep about the United States’ new anti-immigrant government. Curious as to the strategic rationale behind this silence, BBC Mundo dug around and came up with a few interesting theories.

The first, and most cynical, is that the countries of Central America would simply rather not stir the pot. With their larger and much more visible neighbor taking the rhetorical hits, it’s logical to conclude that – in the words of one researcher at the Colegio de México – “If we confront [the US], we’re going to call attention to ourselves and they’re going to beat up on us.”

Of course, no official spokesmen for any of the governments in question would corroborate this position, but one Guatemalan ex-ambassador to the US was willing to put forth another, significantly more absurd theory. “[John Kelly] knows our country well, as well as the rest of Central America,” surmised Francisco Villagrán de León, referencing Kelly’s military experience in the region. “[He] understands the impact that massive deportations would have on Guatemala with respect to security, the economy, and political stability.”

That may sound like the equivalent of closing your eyes, covering your ears, and whispering over and over that “everything’s going to be okay,” but who knows? Maybe there are a couple of rational minds in the White House who can convince their attention deficient leader that destabilizing an entire region is not in the nation’s best interests. But we wouldn’t go betting the farm on it.

Finally, BBC Mundo laid out a little bit of the special context under which many countries of Central America operate: namely the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that have allowed thousands of nationals from El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua to work and live in the United States in the wake of natural disasters and humanitarian crises. This special immigration status is a pillar of the political landscape in these countries, but it must be renewed by the acting US president every 18 months – meaning that in theory, the US’s commander-in-chief might have substantially more leverage over Central America than Mexico.

Of course, it may be a mixture of all or none of these diverse rationales, but don’t hold your breath for any grand gestures of regional unity as this whole ordeal develops.

H/T Animal Político