Guatemala Crisis Speaks to U.S. Immigration Reform

immigration reform Aileen Josephs Honorary Counsel of GuatemalaThe article published July 4 in The Palm Beach Post, “Blame U.S. policies for influx from Guatemala,” sheds light on some of the issues that created the migration of Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Hondurans into the United States as they escaped civil wars in which the U.S. was directly involved. Yet to blame the U.S. solely for the influx is incorrect.

Nationals of these countries began arriving in the U.S. in search of succor in the 1980s. But even after peace accords were signed, the migration patterns from these countries continued as a result of a lack of public policies on both sides to tackle the root causes of undocumented migration.

For years, the lack of U.S. congressional action to revamp our broken immigration system and the enforcement-only approach to this antiquated system has been the worst type of foreign policy aimed at that region. A diaspora that is legal is very beneficial to these three countries whose livelihood largely depends on the remittances that they send back home. Yet for the past 10 years, our country has failed to hear the pleas of the presidents of these three countries — requesting the U.S. help legalize nationals who reside here. Rather, our nation proceeded with a deportation-only approach, threatening the remittances, tearing families apart and plunging these nascent democracies into the lawlessness that feeds on poverty and despair. The leaders of those nations have failed, as well, to promote and carry out public policies to help reintegrate the large numbers of deportees of this past decade and attend the abject poverty that continues to drive others to leave. Drug cartels have flourished in this area.

One thing that the humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied minors brings home is that no matter how many walls we build, there will always be a father, a mother and a child who will risk everything — including their lives — to provide for their lot. Migration, both documented and undocumented, is humanity’s common thread.

Since 2007, as honorary consul of Guatemala in Palm Beach County, I have organized workshops both in Florida and in Guatemala with the Center for International Migration and Integration. The idea was to promote transnational projects for development with the Guatemalan diaspora and their counterparts in their remote villages in Guatemala. The potential for immigrants to play a major role in creating sustainable communities in their countries of origin is a new tool that is being explored in the field of international development. That is, how to leverage the impact of remittances in these countries and help them begin to create change.

In many areas where we are promoting these development projects, people have no Internet access, no schools, no real education. It has been difficult getting traction when the diaspora has been dealing with the social chaos of the massive deportations that have characterized the Obama administration.

With these citizen-driven initiatives, we are planting the seeds so that in the future, women, children and men have alternatives other than to leave the clouds that everyday caress the imposing mountains where their homes and villages rest. There is no reason as to why 15-year-old Gilberto Ramos, from Guatemala, had to die in the desert while trying to make it to the U.S. as an unaccompanied minor to provide for his mother’s epilepsy. He should have been in school, and she should have access to treatment. There is the right not to have to migrate — and these three immigrant-sending countries must begin to work on changing conditions to provide for this basic right of its nationals.

The humanitarian crisis at hand speaks loud and clear to Congress to give our nation an immigration system that protects our borders, deals humanely with those who are already here and promotes legal migration. The status quo is hurting our economy and jeopardizing our national security. Republicans have laid out their principles on immigration, and our nation is waiting for them to move forward, and for once to help solve this critical policy issue that affects our children, families, cities, nation and foreign relations. Immigration reform will be more beneficial to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras than any foreign aid we could give them.

Editor’s Note: Reposted from The Palm Beach Post with the author’s permission – original link.


immigration reform Aileen Josephs Honorary Counsel of GuatemalaAileen Josephs has worked for over eighteen years in Palm Beach County as an attorney focusing primarily on immigration law. During these years, she has represented thousands of Guatemalan nationals and has defended the civil and human rights of many of them.

Born in Mexico City, Mexico, from a Venezuelan mother and an U.S. born father whose parents escaped Poland before the Holocaust, Aileen had the privilege of attending Brandeis University, in Waltham, Massachusetts where her interest in immigration policy developed working with Salvadorian refugees in Waltham, MA. She writes her thesis under the mentoring of renowned Prof. Lawrence Fuchs, titled: “The need for a statutory type of safe-haven for Nationals escaping generalized conditions of civil strife”, studying the case of Salvadorian immigrants to the United States in the 1980’s. With this thesis, Attorney Josephs receives the Martin Lester Award in Legal Studies from Brandeis University and graduates Cum laude with High Honors in 1986 from this prestigious University majoring in Sociology, Latin American Studies and legal studies.

Aileen thereafter graduates from Boston College Law School in 1990 and since then works primarily in the field of immigration law. Ms. Josephs began her career in New York City, working for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and after moving to Palm Beach County in 1992 with her husband began working for Florida Rural Legal Services, in Lake Worth, Florida. It is with Florida Rural Legal Services that Attorney Josephs began working with the great number of Guatemalan nationals that began arriving to this County in the l980’s.

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