Report: 2021 could brew perfect storm for new wave of migration from Central America

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Natural disasters, U.S. recovery and immigrant-friendly talk from Biden could prompt people to make journey north, analysts say

Honduras migrant Marcos Pineda, his wife Keysi Giron and their children Genesis and Ezequiel walk through San Luis Peten, Guatemala, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020. Early Saturday, hundreds of migrants who had entered Guatemala this week without registering were being bused back to their country’s border by authorities after running into a large roadblock. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A perfect storm of pull factors could lead to a major new wave of migration from Central America to the U.S. in 2021, private intelligence analysts say.

Those include expectations raised by the immigrant-friendly rhetoric of the Biden campaign, a U.S. economy likely to generate lots of jobs during a recovery, despair raised by recent natural disasters and the calculation by some that it’ll be easier to get a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States than in their Central American hometowns.

Ben West, senior global security analyst for Stratfor

“We’re already seeing arrests and detentions at the border start to tick back up – not anywhere close to 2019 highs, but getting around to 2017-2018 levels,” said Ben West, senior global security analyst for Stratfor, an Austin-based risk assessment firm part of the Rane Network.

Stratfor this month issued a report stating why border crossings are poised to grow in 2021. The principal pull factor is economic.

“The economic fallout from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic combined with back-to-back major hurricanes, has further worsened living conditions in the Northern Triangle (of Central America), especially for the poorer, marginalized segments of society that were already more likely to attempt the journey to the United States,” the report states.

Hurricanes Eta and Iota slammed into Honduras and Guatemala in November flooding homes, farms, washing away roads and adding to the woes of communities already dealing with the loss of jobs brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this Nov. 6, 2020 file photo, a resident walking through a flooded street looks back at storm damage caused by Hurricane Eta in Planeta, Honduras. (AP Photo/Delmer Martinez, File)

The natural disasters are “putting more pressure on people to leave and seek a better life in the United States,” West said.

The World Bank estimates that El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala will close out 2020 with negative economic growth of 8.7%, 7.1% and 3%, respectively. Meantime, the Federal Reserve this month said the U.S. economy could grow 4.2% in 2021.

“The expected fast timeline for the U.S. economic recovery will make the United States that much more appealing in 2021 to those seeking work,” the Stratfor report says.

Politics are also lining up in favor of additional migration.

Joe Biden
President-elect Joe Biden (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

Individuals and families discouraged from following in the footsteps of thousands of countrymen sent back to Mexico by the Trump administration in 2019 and 2020 “will feel they have a better chance of entering and staying (in the U.S.) once Biden takes office,” according to Stratfor.

Mexico, bullied by Trump into stopping migrant caravans from Central America and deploying troops to the border with Guatemala, likely will not face the same pressure from Biden. America’s southern neighbor might decide to reassign National Guard elements from border immigration checkpoints to face more pressing security threats, such as the criminal organizations responsible for a record number of homicides and rampant fuel theft, the report says.

“Absent threats […] from the United States, Mexico is much less likely to stem migration along its southern border, especially if they know the majority of people will just be passing through,” added West.

A National Guard soldier stands guard near Bavispe, Sonora state, Mexico, where family members of the extended LeBaron family were ambushed by gunmen last year. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)

Comprehensive immigration reform and massive U.S. foreign aid long have been touted by some as the magic bullet to check illegal migration. But as Biden takes office in 2021, neither is guaranteed to happen.

Thus, the severity of a potential new migrant crisis in 2021 “depends on how quickly the Biden administration can work out a more strategic deal with Congress and Mexico on immigration,” West said. “That remains to be seen because past administrations promised immigration reform and ultimately came up short-handed.”

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