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Guatemala is a beautiful, vivid country with a rich history and compassionate people. As someone raised in Guate Bella (“Guate Beautiful”), leaving home was challenging. It’s even more disheartening for those forced to emigrate due to a lack of economic opportunities, extortion, crime, violence, and corruption.

Migration is natural–be it between cities, states, or countries. We all want and deserve safety, prosperity, and freedom.

In June, the United States and Guatemala announced a joint migration program to prevent treacherous journeys for those seeking protection. The joint Oficinas de Movilidad Segura program is an effort to support orderly and safe migration pathways, facilitate family reunification and provide work authorization to Central American countries.

Migration is natural–be it between cities, states, or countries. We all want and deserve safety, prosperity, and freedom. Leaving home isn’t a sporadic change of scenery; it often results from unjust societal conditions and a socio-political history that has caused fragility in nations.

Historic Calamity

The United States’ involvement in Guatemala’s politics has a long history, with corporate America playing a significant role in U.S. economic interventionism, especially the United Fruit Company. The United Fruit Company held monopoly power over the production and distribution of banana imports across the Americas and owned essential infrastructure in Latin America, including railways, hospitals, and ports.

As Guatemalan land reform policies in the 1950s threatened to diminish the United Fruit Company’s force in the region, the company’s connections influenced U.S. support for a military coup in Guatemala. Once the democratically elected president was overthrown, a military dictatorship followed—the result: the Guatemalan Civil War from 1960 to 1996.

The war increasingly became a conflict between the military government and the guerrillas, with the military government framing all indigenous communities as enemies of the state and guerillas targeting innocent civilians. The United States funded the Guatemalan military and trained “death squads,” all while knowing the reported human rights abuses committed at the time.

Indigenous communities of Mayan descent suffered increasing devastation in the Maya Genocide, or the Silent Holocaust, through the government army’s brutal campaign during the civil war. Over 200,000 Guatemalans were killed or forcibly disappeared, with 83% of the victims being of Indigenous descent.

Migration from Tragedy

The 36 -years of civil war were full of executions, rape, kidnappings, and bombings that led tens of thousands of Guatemalans, including my family, to flee.

U.S. accountability for mass forced migration has been hollow. The Clinton Administration apologized to Guatemala for the role the United States played in the war and promised to support peace and reconciliation. Since then, however, the United States has failed to establish long-term migration solutions for vulnerable individuals seeking refuge. U.S. enforcement policies have only made it more difficult for migrants to seek protection or stay in the United States, as Guatemalans have suffered from high deportation numbers and family separations through multiple U.S. administrations.

Investing in Communities

As a Guatemalan, my heart goes out to the Guatemalan community seeking respite and freedom. And as a U.S. citizen, I know the U.S. government can do better.

History has shown us the pain and instability of investing in war. It’s time we invest in communities.

This country offered my grandfather refuge to raise a beautiful, prosperous family that contributes to the United States and deepens its community ties. My grandfather and my family’s stories are no different than those of many families from Guatemala and the Global South, seeking a new life in the United States and contributing to our nation regardless of immigration status.

The conversation about migration flows does not start at the U.S. border. It begins with root causes ingrained in a history of harmful interventions/conflicts and unprecedented situations like climate disasters. Instead of relying on military actions and defense spending, the U.S. government should fund long-term stability and humane practices, from international peacebuilding initiatives to humane migration reception within the United States.

History has shown us the pain and instability of investing in war. It’s time we invest in communities.

Staff: Marcia Orellana

Marcia Orellana

Program Assistant, Migration Policy (2022-2023)

Marcia Orellana served as the Program Assistant for Migration Policy for 2022-2023. Her responsibilities included lobbying and advocating for immigration reform and migrant assistance.