Central America Investigates Foreign Payments to Migrants Heading for US

El Salvadoran law enforcement are currently investigating whether foreign actors are paying migrants to join caravans

Photo - Centro- San Salvador

Video Report Above: Investigating Migrant Caravans

By - Warrior Maven Global Security staff

(San Salvador, El Salvador) - El Salvadoran law enforcement are currently investigating whether foreign actors are deliberately inciting political instability by paying El Salvadoran citizens to join the migrant caravans. Senior El Salvadoran investigators interviewed by Warrior, while they did not want to release definitive findings due to an ongoing investigation, specifically cited foreign payments and foreign government intervention as a focus of the inquiry.

“People here may be paying for somebody to go to the US, and we are investigating whether that has happened. It is an open investigation because there could be money coming from outside the country,” a senior law enforcement official told Warrior Maven in an interview. Entire El Salvadoran families, including newborn children and even some previously convicted criminals are, according to investigators, quite possibly being induced by the promise of daily payments to migrate to the US to seek asylum.

Achieving asylum, however, according to multiple accounts, is expected to be extremely onerous for these migrants approaching the border. According to a variety of sources, asylum is defined as “facing a serious fear of death or persecution . . . on the grounds that returning to his or her country would lead to persecution on account of race, religion, nationality or political beliefs.” Given this circumstance, many experts believe migrants heading from Latin America in caravans are not likely to meet this criteria.

That said, the migrants are permitted by the US Constitution to apply for asylum. At the same time, an article in The New Yorker written earlier this year cites the fast-declining numbers of asylum being granted. “In 2017, immigration judges rejected sixty-one percent of all asylum cases, the highest denial rate in a decade,” the article states.

El Salvadoran Congress

Multiple officials in the El Salvadoran Legislature also assert that this migrant crisis, which places the migrants and especially young children at great risk, is partially attributed to payments being made to migrants. “I am concerned the people are being paid to migrate. This is something other countries are provoking,” El Salvadoran Congresswoman Carmen Milena Mayorga Velera told Warrior Maven in an interview.

Dr. Norman Quijano, President of the El Salvadoran assembly of the Legislature, also told Warrior that he believes bad actors are deliberately trying to engender chaos, and even violence. “Somebody is telling them to go through this danger,” Quijano said in an interview with Warrior Maven.

One young man in San Salvador familiar with the payments said migrants are offered up to $15 dollars a day to join a caravan. Warrior has not independently confirmed the payments, but has heard of their existence from many residents and learned the matter is under investigation.

San Salvador Center

Another man, shopping with his wife and five year old daughter, said he is very worried about a close friend of his who left with an earlier caravan that departed from El Salvador. Many other El Salvadorans, most of whom requested anonymity, said those joining the caravans may have little or no idea about what awaits them.

Officials say bad actors appear to be using them as pawns by promising a better life in the US, and many traveling are said to be totally unaware that US jobs for migrants are much more difficult to get now. Perhaps of greatest significance, they may not be aware of the very serious security situation at the border or that the chance of being granted asylum is highly unlikely, given the latest statistics from the Department of Justice.

Foreign Intervention?

While being careful not to name specific countries as “definitely” responsible, Quijano did raise concern about the prospect of payments to migrants and ill-intentioned influence coming from leftist groups within the Venezuelan and Nicaraguan governments. “These are the kinds of governments who specialize in bringing instability to other governments,” Quijano said.

Senior El Salvadoran law enforcement, while not wanting to confirm any specific findings due to ongoing investigations into this matter, referenced the historic relationship between Honduras and Venezuelan leaders.

As for Venezuelan or other countries’ intentions, many - including both senior members of the El Salvadoran government interviewed by Warrior - suspect it may involve a deliberate effort to cause chaos, instability and political turbulence ahead of the upcoming midterm elections in the US.

In particular, US and El Salvadoran government officials are raising the question as to whether “leftist” Latin governments, such as Venezuela, may wish to severely damage the US political process in the upcoming elections. These midterm elections, which have been more highly charged than ever, will decide which party controls Congress and which party will hold the most gubernatorial seats in the country.

Quijano is strongly encouraging El Salvadoran residents not to migrate and, further, is calling for massive humanitarian aid for those embarking upon these highly dangerous treks without food, water or supplies. “These groups include newborn children who do not have any food or drink. They do not have supplies,” Quijano said. “It is sad for our country.”

Who are the Migrant Caravans?

The caravans are comprised of a complex mix of migrants apparently set on driving, or even walking, to the United States for a better life. They appear determined to follow the thousands of migrants already on their way, despite the presence of US troops now at the border to stop them.

El Salvadoran officials specifically cite concerns for the thousands of well-intentioned, vulnerable migrants who, having no money, may simply feel that they have little alternative apart from taking the money and joining the caravans to support their families. At the same time, Quijano and other government officials warn that the migrant groups themselves may not be properly vetted, and therefore may contain criminals, bad actors or even terrorists.

One retired Green Beret, formerly assigned to South and Central America to train friendly forces in the region, told Warrior that foreign insurgents routinely seek to disguise themselves by entering the US from Latin American. “We’ve known for quite some time that Middle Eastern insurgents operate in this region as part of an effort to pursue terrorist aims in the US.” Government officials in El Salvador acknowledge criminal gang (“bandido’) dangers in their country, and worry some of them may be among the migrants. “There are not criminal background checks and no examination of records. El Salvador should perform criminal record checks and fingerprint migrants,” Quijano emphasized.

El Salvador & Economic Growth

Calling the crisis a profound social and humanitarian problem, Mayorga said the issue has “two-faces,” meaning it is a product of both malicious political influence as well as challenged fast-growing opportunities in El Salvador. “Not enough young people are getting a job here,” she said.

Recognizing this, both Mayorga and Quijano said El Salvador hopes to further strengthen its connection to the United States and create incentives for foreign investment in their economy.

They also stated that there are thousands of opportunities in El Salvador as well. They want to fight violence and corruption to help encourage home-inspired small business ventures in El Salvador.

US and foreign business executives exploring the country for potential investment further make the point that there is an increasing amount of job opportunities for El Salvadorans in their own country. When driving through San Salvador, one sees first-hand the abundance of new construction along with new highways and a large number of US-based businesses such as McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Wendy’s, among others.

Downtown Market in San Salvador

Fortune 500 companies, such as Citibank, and large telecommunications companies, like the Canadian company Telus, are choosing El Salvador as a place to incorporate. As an example, Telus alone employs 2,500 people in El Salvador. According to a 2017 installation of Forbes magazine, El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America, yet has the fourth largest economy.

Subway in San Salvador

MS-13 & Crime

Murder and criminal activity in El Salvador is, according to the World Economic Forum, decreasing. “El Salvador dropped its homicide rates by 26% between 2016 and 2017,” the essay states. Despite the broadly circulated notion that MS-13 gangs regularly terrorize large swaths of the country, law enforcement sources say they tend to stay in certain confined, high-risk areas. Interestingly, a statistics-compiling website known as “Numbeo” compared Chicago to San Salvador - and found residents felt safer walking both during the day and at night in San Salvador versus on the streets of Chicago.

While local law enforcement officials in El Salvador are stepping up efforts to crack down on MS-13 in their own country, they also report that the gang is international. Many MS-13 members arrive in El Salvador after being deported from Los Angeles, which is where the gang actually originated. In short, MS-13 is, by most official accounts, very much an international problem.

The number of murders in El Salvador has decreased by nearly one-half since 2015, the World Economic Forum states. Overall, the essay makes the case that, despite the persistence of criminal activity, Central America may be turning a corner for the better. In fact, many residents believe there is opportunity in El Salvador for small business.

Warrior talked to a small toy-market owner, who requested to be referred to as David for this article, who says that his selling toys brings him $60 to $70 per day. (equates to nearly 3-times the average minimum wage in El Salvador). He said he does not want to migrate and would rather work hard in El Salvador to support his family.

Mayorga said she is proposing legislation to increase English language training for residents in El Salvador, saying there is a high demand for English-speaking workers here. One woman who runs an English school for kids, who asked to go by Kennia for this story, said that an ability to speak English can translate into a huge increase in pay.

“The better paying jobs are in English out here. Current salary here is about $250 dollars per month, but if you learn English you can earn more than $1000 per month,” she said.

Avoiding Confrontation

Migrant caravans originating in El Salvador, and other Central American countries, continue movement as more than 5,000 US military troops deploy to the US-Mexican border.

According to a DoD statement, US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan said US military and law enforcement officials are watching “two caravans” in particular.

“One has already made illegal entry across two international borders, and the second is still in Guatemala,” McAleenan said in a DoD report. Many US and El Salvadoran officials are hoping to avoid a potentially dangerous confrontation on the border between incoming migrants and US military and law enforcement entities.

Furthermore, Mayorga and Quijano both seek to remedy the problem at it source, before there is the possibility for dangerous confrontation. According to local sources in El Salvador, more meetings among potential migrants and new migrant caravans are now being planned, despite the worsening crisis.

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