Since Donald Trump has been president, it has become increasingly clear that we live in an era of mass deportations. Yet amid all of the noise and inhumane immigration policies of the Trump presidency, it may come as a surprise that the actual pace of deportations has not significantly increased in the last two years.
Undoubtedly, the Trump administration’s ramped up enforcement operations have led to more immigrants being deported who do not have criminal records. Similarly, more have been forced to leave who have family members who are U.S. citizens. Yet it wasn’t that long ago when immigrant rights activists were calling Barack Obama the “deporter-in-chief” for the record number of deportations he oversaw.
For the women of UPAVIM, the immigration of family members and friends to the U.S. has long been a basic part of their lives. Similarly, the number of people who have returned, increasingly as forced deportees, has had considerable consequences for UPAVIMas and their families and communities.
Many women at UPAVIM, like an increasing number of Guatemalans, depend on the remittances that immigrants to the US send back to their countries as an important part of their incomes. Remittances to Guatemala currently stand at 11.5% of the country’s Gross National Product. (In neighboring El Salvador and Honduras, meanwhile, they stand at 18.3% and 19.1%, respectively). As more immigrants are forcibly returned to Guatemala, these remittances will invariably decline. Credible estimates suggest that this decline could lead to as much as a 2% reduction in Guatemala’s GNP over the next three years. Such a decline will lead to higher levels of unemployment and underemployment, something that is itself the kind of process that will only make Guatemala’s street gangs and drug and human trafficking networks more powerful. This, in turn, will lead more Guatemalans to try and flee the country, especially as the government of Jimmy Morales has resisted efforts to combat corruption and impunity in the country.
Apparently oblivious to all of this, the Trump administration continues its policies of mass deportations. It also continues to support the Guatemalan government’s general effort to grant police and military forces more authority to fight crime and gang activity. Yet these same forces have been implicated in the repression of activists who have been fighting for the rights of workers and indigenous communities, in addition to environmental protections.
In this bleak environment, the work of the women of UPAVIM becomes all the more important. Although not always thought of in this way, the women of UPAVIM are living out the harsh consequences that the policies of mass deportations are having. In La Esperanza and Mezquital, the services and the jobs that UPAVIM provides are an important counterweight to the effects of these deportations, providing hope and possibility in the face of inhumane and counterproductive policies.