Why Does Crime in Mexico Concern the United States?

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Alex Wong/Getty Images

When discussing immigration, many have the narrow tunnel vision perspective that illegal immigration in America is just that, an American issue. But the fact of the matter is that no nation, regardless of what some might wish, functions in a vacuum. No matter the security forces commissioned or the walls built around the U.S. border, the issue remains one with major links to the quality of other nation’s security and social welfare.

For this reason, the perception and reality of crime and gang violence in neighboring countries are as worthy of attention as petty statements back and forth between Republicans in Congress and the Obama Administration. And the news on that front is far from positive, despite the fact that there have been marked improvements over the course of the last few years.

According to a Gallup poll taken this year, 4 out of 10 Mexicans answered the question of “Are there gangs in the area where you live?” in the affirmative, compared to a high of 59% in 2008. While a clear improvement over the course of six years, the number remains high. Looking by region, Central Mexico has particularly high reports of gangs, at 53% compared to 37% in Northern Mexico and 21% in Southern Mexico. The low percentage in Southern Mexico may be misleadingly low, Gallup points out, as recent kidnapping problems there could have major effects on the tourist industry, and thus might force the government to take a more proactive role in preventing future crime there, improving law enforcement, and so on, if it hopes to preserve that industry or retain the confidence of residents there.Drug sales and trafficking have also seen decreases from the high of 43% in 2008 and 2009, down to 27% in 2014. Unfortunately, perception of government corruption in all areas remains quite high, with 70% of Norther Mexicans saying they consider the government corrupt in the area they live, with 64% of Central Mexican residents and 55% of Southern residents saying the same.

So while the news may not be all negative, the fact remains that perceived safety for many individuals in Mexico is still low for a number of reasons. And for those raising families in these areas, concerns are understandably high, thus the motivation for immigrating north. This aspect of immigration motivation was addressed with particular clarity earlier this year during the border crisis involving unaccompanied minors. At the time, over 50,000 minors crossed illegally in search of shelter from violence, poverty, and gang intimidation at home. Many sought refugee status and testified as to their reason for fleeing.

During this humanitarian and security emergency, a number of new programs were initiated to help aid other nations in their approach to these issues. These focused efforts on the root of the immigration issue; i.e. improving conditions at home, was meant to help make the dangers of leaving less attractive and the demand of seeking a safer home less necessary.  These programs included one that would contribute $40 million to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which would work to improve the safety of civilians in violent Guatemalan neighborhoods in order to cut away at gang targeting of young residents who have then historically fled to the U.S. A second program in El Salvador provides $25 million to the crime and violence prevention program within USAID with the goal of creating 77 outreach centers in the next five years (adding to 30 currently already set up). The outreach centers help mitigate the effectiveness of gang recruitment.

A program in Honduras — Central American Regional Security Initiative — was given $18.5 million this year in order to combat the issue from another angle and help “support community policing and law enforcement efforts to confront gangs and other sources of crime.” The 40 other centers were to be given added support in order to expand its efforts.

While these programs are a major step toward progress that will decrease problems with gang violence and crime in the native countries of many would-be-illegal immigrants, it’s nearly impossible to make a large dent in such a huge problem over a five-year period. The demands are too great, and infrastructure and crime can only be fixed so quickly given government corruption and deeply embedded local problems.

However efforts across multiple fronts, the border security, clear warnings to potential undocumented immigrants, and aid to foreign governments, may very well be the best way to approach such a deeply complex issue. Though it’s certainly notable that this immigration and border security are statistically problems that have actually been decreasing in recent years, despite the exception of unaccompanied minors so recently in the minds of Americans.

More Politics Cheat Sheet:

Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS

Check out Politics Cheat Sheet on Facebook