Research compiled one year ago by Customs and Border Protection pointed to an overwhelming factor driving record-setting migration to the U.S. from Guatemala: Crop shortages were leaving rural Guatemalans, especially in the country’s western highlands, in extreme poverty and starving.
An internal report that was circulated to senior Homeland Security officials and obtained by NBC News showed that migration surged from those areas of Guatemala without reliable subsistence farming or wages from commercial farming jobs. More than 100,000 Guatemalans headed north last year, and many more followed in fiscal year 2019, making Guatemala the single largest country contributing to undocumented immigration across the U.S. southwest border this year.
Scientists have said the increase in poverty and food insecurity driving migration are due to multiple factors, one of which is climate change.
The acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees CBP, Kevin McAleenan, has publicly sounded the alarm about Guatemala’s food scarcity.
But inside the Trump White House, that message was largely ignored in both policy decisions and messaging around what should be done to stem the flow of migrants. Last October, a month after the CBP report was finalized, President Donald Trump announced he was considering suspending foreign aid to Guatemala, which included money used to mitigate the affects of climate change on small farms.