More People Displaced In Americas Than Middle East

displaced peopleA few weeks ago, I wrote a post about a young Mexican police sheriff — Marisol Valles — who had fled her post in one of the country’s most dangerous regions to seek asylum in the U.S. While it’s clear that Valles certainly is one of many people to be in that situation, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) recently released a report which sheds some light on the number of people who are coming to the U.S. from Latin America as a result of drug cartel violence in the region.

According to the report, “by the end of 2010, as many as 5.4 million people were internally displaced due to armed conflict, violence, and human rights violations in the Americas.” In comparison, 3.9 million were displaced in the Middle East at the end of the year largely due to armed conflicts. The IDMC claims that, in Mexico alone, about 230,000 people have been displaced because of drug violence. While approximately 115,000 of those Mexicans were internally displaced within the country, the IDMC notes that the other half of those displaced “crossed the border into the United States.” These figures don’t include the Central American nation of Guatemala, which is also experiencing high levels of violence.

Meanwhile, those who seek asylum face an uphill battle. In order to qualify, asylum applicants must prove “credible fear” based on their membership in a social, political, religious, or ethnic group that has been targeted for persecution. While asylum applicants who are fleeing Latin America’s drug violence can usually prove they have a good reason to fear for their lives, persecution is difficult to establish. Less than two percent of the 3,800 Mexican asylum petitions were approved last year.

While some legal experts are advocating for a broader set of asylum criteria, the courts have been slow to respond and it seems unlikely that all 115,000 displaced people would meet even the most expansive asylum standards that have been discussed. Others have suggested lobbying the federal government to grant drug war victims “Temporary Protected Status,” a temporary immigration status that is available to individuals from a small number of federally-designated countries suffering armed conflicts, natural disasters, or other extraordinary circumstances. However, that option is highly controversial.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) also released a report this week which warns, “the unchecked power and violence of these Mexican DTOs [drug trafficking organizations] present a substantial humanitarian concern and have contributed to forced migration and numerous U.S. asylum requests. If the situation were to worsen, a humanitarian emergency might lead to an unmanageable flow of people into the United States.”

Andrea Nill According to CFR, the U.S. bears part of the responsibility “given that U.S. drug consumption, firearms, and cash have fueled much of Mexico’s recent violence.” They recommend “bolster[ing] U.S. domestic law enforcement efforts to curb illicit drug distribution, firearms smuggling, and money laundering” and making “an overall commitment to preventing and treating drug abuse and other societal ills caused by drugs and reevaluate the effectiveness of current U.S. and international drug policies.”

Ultimately, it’s probably safe to say that many — if not most — of the immigrants coming to the U.S. are driven by economics more than the drug war. Yet, as the drug-related violence in Latin America escalates, dealing with migration to North America may start to require addressing U.S. drug and gun policies along with the nation’s broken immigration system itself.

Andrea Nill
Wonk Room


  1. says

    About 5 million Colombians have been violently displaced from their land and their home. Today much of this occurs as agribusinesses consolidate territory to grow biofuels–a horrific trend that will only be exacerbated if the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia passes. Our subsidized agriculture will flood the food market while land now being used in Colombia to grow food is being violently transferred into the hands of killers seeking to corner the biofuels market. Ten million acres have already been claimed by paramilitary groups and narco-traffickers.

  2. SK says

    According to CFR, the U.S. bears part of the responsibility “given that U.S. drug consumption, firearms, and cash have fueled much of Mexico’s recent violence.”

    Wow. Violent Mexican drug lords are killing and torturing people, and you still find a way to blame those “bad Americans” for the problems Mexicans face with their greedy government and out of control criminals. Amazing. Those bad Americans are just the root of all evil in the world, right?

    Hey, yeah, let’s expand our asylum criteria and just keep cleaning up the mess so Mexico’s rich can keep getting richer, while the US taxpayers have to pick up the slack. Wouldn’t that be nice of us. Oh wait, we’re the bad guys, nothing we do will ever be considered enough to extract ourselves from the “bad Americans” stereotype promoted by liberals who hate our country.

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