By John Lindsay-Poland
U.S.-sourced guns brutalize and force migrants to flee all along the route between Central America and the United States.
In Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, U.S.-sourced guns in the hands of both gangs and state forces are making life untenable in neighborhoods, and communities, forcing families to flee. Upon reaching Mexico, police armed with weapons imported from the United States, urged by Washington to stop the flow of refugees, have detained and deported hundreds of thousands of such migrants.
Migrant families who choose routes away from police roundups find themselves in areas controlled by non-state criminal organizations, who are armed predominantly with weapons trafficked from gun dealers in Texas, Arizona and other U.S. border states. These groups have themselves abducted and disappeared thousands of migrants.
If the migrants reach the U.S. border, they are confronted with Border Patrol agents with high-powered weapons. In all cases, U.S. gun producers are profiting from the desperate race for safety of Central American families.
A United Nations representative survey in 2014 of children fleeing from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico found that close to half cited experience or threats of serious harm from organized armed groups, including police, as a reason for leaving their countries. In El Salvador, two thirds of the children cited such violence from armed groups. More than 40% of guns recovered in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and traced were identified as coming from the United States. Many other weapons were produced in other countries and trafficked to Central America, but the source country could not be identified – and likely were trafficked from the United States.
After elections in Honduras in November 2017 were marred by fraud and repression, the Organization of American States called for a new election. During protests against the electoral fraud, Honduran Military Police used legally exported machineguns produced by Colt Manufacturing in Connecticut, killing several protesters. Since then, most Central Americans migrants seeking entry in the United States, including those on last Fall’s caravans, have come from Honduras.
But Mexico is not safe for Central Americans – more than two thirds report being victims of violence in Mexico. An estimated 35,000 migrants in Mexico have been abducted and disappeared. “Just in terms of brute numbers, disappearances of migrants in Mexico compares with the worst military dictatorships …in the Western hemisphere,” says Everard Meade of the Trans-Border Institute in San Diego.
Whether migrants turn to coyotes controlled by cartels or they ride in public buses, they are more vulnerable to extortion, forced disappearance, rape, and other violence by criminal organizations armed with U.S.-sourced firearms. North-bound migrants on the Caribbean route must pass through the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, and one third of migrants deported from the United States last year were sent through Tamaulipas. Yet Tamaulipas is also the Mexican state with the largest number of illegally trafficked weapons – more than 30,000 firearms were recovered from 2000 to 2015. More than six thousand people – many of them migrants have been kidnapped in Tamaulipas and forcibly disappeared.
The weapons used by Mexican criminal groups come primarily from U.S. retail gun markets: seventy percent of guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico and traced were purchased in the U.S., primarily the border states of Texas, Arizona and California, and trafficked over the border. A large proportion of trafficked weapons are assault weapons that are easily available at gun shops and shows in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. If guns used in murders in Mexico reflect the same pattern, then Mexico would have experienced more gun homicides in 2018 with U.S. guns than did the entire United States.
The U.S. gun debate should consider the pain of migrants and Mexicans devastated by U.S.-sourced guns as additional compelling reasons to enact gun violence prevention measures. Policy makers should reinstate the federal ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and establish effective end user controls on gun exports to prevent U.S. weapons from getting to police and military forces that collude with organized crime or violate human rights.
Our country should not deport migrants and refugees seeking protection under U.S. and international law – but it also should stop the flow of guns that is making life in Mexico and Central America so dangerous for residents and migrants alike.