This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Battling the Beast as a Way of Slowing Down Migration-UPDATED

The Beast is the popular name given to the trains that run from the Guatemala border in the south of Mexico to the U.S. border in the north of Mexico. Over the years it has been a popular, indeed storied, means of transportation for Central American migrants aiming to cross into the U.S. without authorization. Publicity about The Beast peaked with the surge in unaccompanied minor children from Central America this past Spring. That flow has since slowed down considerably and one reason is that it has become harder to catch the train. At first, this was voluntary action on the part of the railroads, as reported in May by the New York Times:
Aurora Vega, a spokeswoman for Mexico’s immigration agency...said she was unaware of any new effort to clear migrants from trains. “It is an issue that does not concern us since it is private companies who operate the railways,” she said.
Not so, anymore, according to the Economist:
“LA BESTIA” (“The Beast”) still trundles along the length of Mexico, from Guatemala to the United States. But the infamous freight train has fewer people perched on its roof and clinging to its sides. Since last month the Mexican authorities have been cracking down on Central American migrants clambering on board; their ranks have dwindled from hundreds to dozens on each journey.
“We have an obligation to stop the migrants getting on the train, because the train is a danger to them,” said Humberto Mayans, the head of Mexico’s new migrant programme. Mr Mayans has cited the risks of travellers losing their lives or limbs from falling off the train when exhausted, or being pushed off by the gangs who prey on those aboard.
To be sure, there is concern that migrants will now just look for even more dangerous routes, and that is most likely to happen if the corollary of trying to cut down on violence in Central America is not acted upon. Sadly, we shouldn't hold our breath on that.

Today I received notice of a talk that will take place next week UCSD's Institute of the Americas dealing with this issue. The speaker will be Scott Hamilton, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service and currently the Director of the Office of Central American Affairs in the Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. The announcement hints that the slowdown in the number of migrants might just be due to the hot summer weather, but it also suggests that Mr. Hamilton will speak to the issues of "How the State Department and regional governments have mobilized in order to address the crisis and to dissuade children from making the dangerous journey. We will discuss what the overall U.S. policy response is in the sending countries, what programs are underway jointly to dissuade children from migrating and protect them at home, and what can be done to address the root causes of the problem, such as citizen insecurity and drug violence." I hope this will be more encouraging than I originally thought.

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