On Jan. 5, the Biden administration announced new legal pathways to the US which include expanding the “Parole Process” for Venezuelans to Nicaraguans, Haitians, and Cubans, a policy that will favor richer migrants. Migration from these countries has dropped since then.
The Sandinista party won the presidency of Nicaragua in January 2007 and from that time through 2020 there was only a trickle of migrants to the US – at most a few hundred a month. But that began to change in 2020 when Nicaraguans who crossed into the US and were encountered by the border officials found that they were not expelled, and instead given help with air or bus transportation to get to their final destination.
In February 2021 many of us, inside and outside of Nicaragua, began to hear the stories from people who crossed the border or from their family or friends that, once they crossed the border, they should just find a border official and they would receive help with transportation getting to the home of family or friends. The other news that traveled like wildfire was that there were jobs available and with pretty good wages (US$14 to 18 an hour). Since 2021 the number of Nicaraguan migrants increased substantially. And the dream of migrating north spread like a virus.
From Nicaragua’s population of 6.5 million, more than 163,876 Nicaraguans were “encountered” at the US border in FY2022 (Sept. 30, 2021 to Sept. 30, 2022) — many times more than those who entered during the same period in 2020 – just 2,291, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. In FY 2021 there were 50,109. In the first three months of FY 2023 (Oct., Nov. and Dec.) there were 90,553.
This graph shows how migration from Nicaragua has grown in the last three years from a very low level in US fiscal year 2020 to a much higher level in the first months of fiscal year 2023, that is Oct.-Dec. 2022. Source: https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/nationwide-encounters
U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended a record 2.2 million migrants at the southwest border in the 2022 fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Close to half were rapidly expelled under the Title 42 policy.
It is uncertain how many people are migrating to the U.S. from Central America. But the Migration Policy Institute says of the 3.4 million Central Americans living in the U.S., about 85% of them are from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, over 450,000 people arrived at the border in 2020, as the pandemic slowed world-wide migration. In 2021 the number nearly quadrupled to at least 1.7 million migrants who were expelled or detained in the U.S, or in Mexico. More than 189,000 arrived at the U.S. border in June 2021, the record for one month.
Under Title 8, which is what has been primarily used with Nicaraguan migrants in recent years, a person can be removed quickly or allowed to stay. Most Nicaraguans are released temporarily into the US while their removal cases (and possible asylum claims) are adjudicated. They have also been largely exempt from Title 42, unlike other Central Americans and Mexicans. Title 42 began under the Trump Administration as what they called a “Covid health-related norm,” and is used as an express mechanism to expel undocumented migrants. Under Title 42 when border officials encounter most people from Mexico and the northern triangle of Central America they are expelled to Mexico without immigration charges. The one good thing for these migrants is that they can try again, if necessary, multiple times; recidivism rates are now 26% compared to 7% in 2019.
The Biden Administration, like that of Trump, has spent more than half a billion dollars since 2017 in Nicaragua destabilization efforts in hopes of overthrowing the Sandinistas – the US’s perceived nemesis since 1979 when the Sandinistas overthrew dictator Somoza – a faithful ally of the US who took good care of US investors and oligarchs. US-imposed Sanctions in 2018 and 2021 are one way the US has turned the screws on Nicaragua’s economy. Many of the other mechanisms they utilize require hundreds of millions of dollars, and as more US citizens become aware of the progress for the majority in Nicaragua, like free universal health care and education, the best social infrastructure and roads in the region, greatly improved gender equity, low maternal and child mortality, 90% food sovereignty, 99.2% coverage in electricity mainly with renewable energy, the US may find taxpayers don’t want their money used on attempted coups.
Biden and the corporate media mouthpiece for the government have been trying to convince the US public that the Nicaraguan government is an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to national security and part of what they call “the troika of tyranny” – along with two other maligned countries – Cuba and Venezuela. But this narrative didn’t jive with the fact that people weren’t leaving Nicaragua, especially when citizens of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have migrated in droves for the last thirteen years or more. Thus the uptick in Nicaraguan migration in the last two years allows the US government and media now to say, “ People are fleeing repression!” and constitutionally elected president Daniel Ortega “is a dictator.”
They don’t tell you that the US puts pop-up advertisements on Facebook and Instagram in Nicaragua about good jobs in the north, or that Nicaraguans are treated much better when they cross the border than their Central American brothers and sisters. With more Nicaraguan migrants it is easier now for the US to blame migration on the administration of the Sandinista government. However, from 2007 through 2020, all under the Sandinista government, a negligible number of Nicaraguans went north, a drop in the bucket compared to the high number of migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
So it makes no sense that the Sandinista government is now the reason that people have recently migrated in record numbers, especially since every aspect of life has improved yearly from 2007 to April 2018 and again from late 2020 to date. The break in that trend included the US-directed coup attempt in 2018, the pandemic, and two hurricanes.
The New York Times in December wrote that Nicaraguans were leaving because of violence. Nicaragua is the safest country in Central America and one of the safest in Latin America and the Caribbean. It has about one-eighth the percentage of murders as Honduras, and about one-fourth that of El Salvador and Guatemala. Nicaragua is the Number One country in the world for percentage of population who say they always feel at peace – some 73%!
In September 2021 US President Joe Biden said that “it is not rational” to deport to Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela migrants arriving from those countries… “I am now mindful of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. The possibility of sending them back to those countries is not rational …”
In 2021 and 2022, Border Patrol Encounters were higher than in the past across the board and this has to do with the economic effects that the pandemic had on the majority of economies. Some elements more unique to Nicaragua that spur migration are two sets of US sanctions, two very damaging hurricanes at the end of 2020, and less work in Costa Rica.
The sanctions have been against individuals but also have limited multilateral loans, especially from the World Bank and the International Development Bank. The World Bank did not provide loans between March 2018 and November 2020. The sanctions have spurred migration – supposedly something the US does not want – so according to Tom Ricker in a 2022 analysis of migration from Nicaragua, the sanctions have backfired, leading to more migration north.
For at least forty years many Nicaraguans have worked all or part of the year in Costa Rica, many gaining legal status. But Costa Rica’s economy was hurt by Covid and fewer jobs in that country resulted in more people returning to Nicaragua than going to Costa Rica in 2020 and 2021. In 2021, over 5,000 more Nicaraguans left Costa Rica than entered it. Lack of jobs in Costa Rica, for those who have historically worked there, is one of the reasons for more migration north to the United States.
Other pull factors are the US labor shortage and the fact that Nicaraguans have been largely exempted from Title 42 at the US border. If people can successfully cross the border, the border guards help them get to their destination, they likely find work and, compared to their home countries, good paying work which allows them to send money home. Other pull factors are US companies advertising jobs to Nicaraguans on social media.
According to the US Chamber of Commerce, there are currently more than 10 million job openings in the US and only 5.7 million unemployed. In Minnesota there are only 43 workers for every hundred job openings. I personally know eleven undocumented migrants working in Minnesota. All these migrants had received the message from a friend or family member to simply look for a border official after crossing over; and now they are working in the US under Title 8. From what they tell me, at every hearing they are given more time to stay in the US without a final decision about their status.
About a fourth of migrants living in the US, some 11 million, are undocumented and 55% of those are from Mexico. The number peaked in 2007 and has since dropped slightly. The highest increase was from 1994 to 2000 with the signing of NAFTA which destroyed an entire sector of Mexican agriculture. The US Department of Labor National Agricultural Worker Survey (NAWS) estimated that 70% of the 1.8 million US agricultural workers were born in Mexico and that 70% of foreign-born crop workers are undocumented. So at least half of US crop workers are undocumented. US agriculture employs a higher percentage of undocumented workers than any other industry in part because pay in this sector is lower than in other sectors.
Biden’s latest immigration plan: brain drain and deportation
The new US plan for Nicaragua is “brain drain,” and will only benefit the Nicaraguans who are better off and more educated and not currently in the US under Title 8. On Jan. 5, the administration announced new legal pathways to the US which include expanding the “Parole Process” for Venezuelans to Nicaraguans, Haitians, and Cubans. Up to 30,000 individuals could be accepted per month from these four countries. They must have valid passports, an eligible sponsor and pass vetting and background checks, can come for two years and receive work authorization. Those applying must have someone with legal papers in the US who agrees to provide financial and other support.
When the migrant arrives at the US port of entry, there will be additional screening and vetting. If granted “parole,” it will typically be for two years. Once granted parole, migrants may apply for employment authorization and social security numbers. By January 27, according to CNN some 800 Nicaraguans had been pre-approved for “parole” allowing them to travel by air, at their own cost to the US.
The same White House statement says that for Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Cubans and Haitians, there will be “new consequences for individuals who attempt to enter unlawfully, increasing the use of expedited removal.” Individuals who irregularly cross the Panama, Mexico, or U.S. border after Jan. 5, 2022, will be subject to expulsion to Mexico, which will now accept 30,000 individuals per month from these four countries who fail to use these new pathways.
With the new pathway for more educated middle-class Nicaraguans, there will likely be more deportations back to Managua, or to Mexico and then Managua. Many of these people are from the dryer poorer countryside of Nicaragua where their earnings are low. Many have previously worked in Costa Rica, and will likely try their luck there again.
But what about all those unfilled jobs in the US, especially in the agricultural sector where Nicaraguans and others are picking up the slack? And what about the US administration’s claims that people are leaving Nicaragua due to repression?
It’s quite possible that, despite the new measures, Nicaraguans, like Cubans, will continue to be treated differently than their Central American neighbors and allowed to stay longer until a final legal decision on their cases. However, eventually it is probable that most will be deported.The post New US Immigration Policies’ Effect on Nicaragua first appeared on Dissident Voice.
This content originally appeared on Dissident Voice and was authored by Nan McCurdy.