Republican lawmakers: Invest in Central American women to ease immigration border crisis
In Guatemala, 44% of women become mothers by the time they turn 20 and half are married by the same age. In order to explore the challenges these women face and how the U.S. government can best support them as we tackle a growing migration crisis from the region, the three of us, all Republican members of Congress, recently traveled to Guatemala.
At the end of a long, dusty road in Santiago Sacatepéquez, we met one of Guatemala’s young mothers, Sandra Xiquín. Sandra is now 31 years old and the mom of two boys. She is a successful farmer who owns and leases 29 plots of land and has a booming business that exports vegetables, including green beans and carrots. However, before her business took off, Sandra faced many obstacles.
Even after inheriting a small plot of land from her father, no bank would give her a loan. One banker even told her that women aren’t creditworthy. Fortunately, through a program run by CARE, a global humanitarian and development organization, Sandra was eligible for an initiative that gave her the tools, training and resources necessary to succeed as a farmer.
Today, Sandra is the president of the only women’s farming cooperative in Guatemala and employs over 500 women farmers and 1,500 farm workers. We visited their fields and pristine export processing facility, which employs an additional 190 women and ships more than $6 million in packaged vegetables to the United States each year.
During our visit, we had the opportunity to meet many women in indigenous communities who were eager to create their own economic opportunities in Guatemala. Sadly, most Guatemalan women don’t get the same opportunities Sandra received.
Migration is not a solution for many
Guatemala has one of the highest rates of femicide and violence against women and girls in the world. Women constantly fear for their safety, and perpetrators are rarely held accountable. Across the board, the population faces serious challenges: high unemployment and crime rates, abject poverty, hunger, corruption and poor governance, weak rule of law, inequality and discrimination against indigenous people, and severe weather shocks and drought. Nearly half of Guatemalan children under 5 are stunted due to malnutrition, the highest rate in Latin America and one of the highest in the world.
We met with a handful of young people who shared that they had considered migration, hoping to make more money for themselves and their families. In some cases, families are making the unimaginable choice to send their children either alone or with smugglers to our border for a chance at a better life.
The mothers we met within the country’s impoverished Western Highlands wanted to keep their families at home. The journey of 1,500 miles, with limited food and water, is particularly dangerous for women and girls, who are at severe risk of physical and sexual violence. These women did not view migration as a solution, and they are banding together to root out poverty and fight corruption so their families have economic opportunities at home.
Eliminating the root causes of the migration crisis at our border entails standing with these moms. Community assistance that gives Guatemalans economic opportunities and hope for the future incentivizes more people to invest and stay in their home country.
US aid tackles migration crisis at its core
Sandra’s farming cooperative demonstrated that foreign aid can make women proud as we help them help themselves. The U.S. government, international nonprofits, civil society and churches, local authorities and the private sector can make a huge difference. Together, we can create job opportunities, fight domestic violence, and assist local communities as they raise themselves out of extreme poverty.
U.S. foreign assistance to the Northern Triangle goes directly into the hands of nonprofit partners selected by the U.S. Agency for International Development; regional governments do not manage these funds. Our programs empower moms, save lives and stabilize the region. U.S. aid tackles the migration crisis at its core by giving poor families the tools they need to stay at home and thrive.
For more than 70 years, the United States has supported robust foreign assistance because it is indispensable to our own national security and it prevents larger, more expensive conflicts. We are committed to working with the president and Congress to continue this assistance. With careful monitoring and leadership, we know America can work with Guatemala to create a more successful future for both nations.
Sandra’s story is proof that foreign assistance can forever change the lives of women and girls. American foreign assistance is not a handout, it’s a hand up. By investing wisely in mothers like Sandra, we make the world more prosperous, self-sufficient and safe for the children they are raising.