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Dos and Don’ts to Fight Illegal Immigration: Developing Humanitarian Pathways

in partnership with República, concordia media partner

june 8, 2021 | DIgital

12:00 – 1:00 pm EDT


Every year, thousands of people flee their homes in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, looking for a better life in the United States. This phenomenon is widely due to corruption, poverty, violence, and lack of opportunities for millions who find life in these countries unbearable. In partnership with República, one of the largest digital newspapers in Guatemala, Concordia hosted a conversation that touched on crucial issues facing the Northern Triangle today, and how foreign aid, investment & trade, and the rule of law are critical in addressing mass migration into the United States.


“I am optimistic. There are a lot of challenges but room for opportunities, and we are working together more than before. The challenge is big, but if we work together, it will be great.” – José Miguel Torrebiarte

“We must always be sure that we are keeping the communities in mind who are being served by all of these efforts… It’s not just about national and international government, but it’s about communities, and we need to engage them in these conversations so that everything we do addresses their needs.” – Anu Rajaraman

“The Congressman and his office are committed to driving the agenda forward and do our part to promote change. Everyone is invested and will continue to collaborate to work on these issues.” – Louise Bentsen

In Case You Missed It...

The promise of a better future for Guatemala and Central America lies at the heart of this conversation. The panelists of this discussion discussed how increased opportunities, voluntary migration, and various ways to develop humanitarian pathways are crucial in addressing mass migration from Central America to the United States. 

This Concordia Live examined the concrete strategies and goals that address the needs and issues of Guatemalan communities that yearn to migrate to the United States in search of a better life. The skilled speakers of this panel included Jose Miguel Torrebiarte, the President of Calzado Coban, Vice President of Progresso & Director of Fundesa ; Anu Rajaraman, Mission Director of USAID Guatemala; and Louise Bentsen, the Chief of Staff for Congressman Vincente Gonzalez (TX-15). Rodrigo Arenas, the CEO of Republica, moderated this discussion.

  • Rodrigo Arenas kicked off this conversation by emphasizing that almost 3 million of the 16 million population of Guatemala have migrated to the United States due to the high presence of drug trafficking and lack of opportunity in the country.
  • Arenas specified that about 50,000 Guatemalans migrate every year to the United States, risking their lives and families in search of opportunity and a better life.
  • Guatemala has received almost 2 billion dollars from American taxpayers
    • Nearly half of these funds go to the war on drugs in Guatemala
    • The other half is focused on humanitarian acts that reduce Guatemalans urge to migrate
    • However, these efforts have not been very successful in the past.
  • Jose Miguel Torrebiarte displayed a presentation titled “Guatemala Moving Forward.”
    • This presentation identified a holistic approach and aggressive agenda to curb mass migration in Central America in order to attract more investors. Torrebiarte presented five key elements that could aid in this process: exporting sectors, human capital, infrastructure, tourism, and the competitiveness and legal certainty agenda for investors.
  • Torrebiarte mentioned that this approach possesses the opportunity to generate 2.5 million quality jobs by 2030.
  • Guatemala has defined an export increase strategy around three lasting blocks.
    • “The short term goal is to do more of what is already done well, then diversify with current competencies, and the long term [goal is to] expand horizon towards more sophisticated sectors and foreign investors.”
  • The goal of this agenda is to estimate an opportunity of up to $5 billion in 20 products and up to 900,000 new quality jobs in Guatemala.
  • Torrebiarte identified an action plan that consists of implementation projects led by the government, with the private sector supporting this process.
  • Infrastructure is also a complex aspect that holds a high precedent in the Guatemalan reform agenda. The sector of infrastructure could be transformed through the adoption of this ambitious agenda that aims to build a broad coalition to move forward and create model change.
  • Torrebiarte emphasized how the construction of infrastructure in Guatemala could create more career opportunities for mothers, youth, and people with disabilities.
    • “We recognize that we have a weak Judiciary System, and it’s important to really strengthen that system in order to have the rule of law and the level of certainty for investors and all Guatemalans to avoid migration.”
  • Ambitious strategy to make Guatemala a 100% digital state
  • This plan has been built over the past 10 years
  • Anu Rajaraman prefaced her remarks by stating that 15% of the Guatemalan population does not have food to eat. She presented multiple statistics and findings, such as the fact that 1 of 2 Guatemalan children are hungry and experiencing food insecurity, as many as 80% of the population is living in poverty, and one of every two Guatemalan children under the age of five is malnourished.
  • Rajaraman echoed Torrebiarte’s statements by emphasizing that Guatemala currently lacks basic services, infrastructure, educational attainment, and human capital.
    • “61 percent of Guatemala’s population are under the age of 30, but if you consider the profile of that youth population, on average, Guatemalans only have six years of educational attainment so they’re not prepared for the job market. So this is why we’re so pleased to see this emphasis on not just jobs but also strengthening human capital writ large.”
  • She also identified the fact that 150,000 Guatemalans enter the workforce every year, but they compete for only 35,000 jobs. As a result of this inconsistency, Rajaraman communicated her excitement and agreement with Torrebiarte’s aspiration to create 2.5 million jobs by 2030. 
  • Rajaraman also communicated that there is only so much that USAID can do on their own, and everything must be in strategic collaboration with partnership, government, communities and private sector entities.
  • Rajaraman highlighted the need to take a short-term and long-term perspective as it pertains to addressing the food insecurity, lack of opportunity, and other factors that drive Guatemalan citizens to migrate to the United States. She explained that the Guatemalan government recently announced the surge of humanitarian assistance to address these issues and help the populations that continue to recover from the impacts of the two storms that have transpired recently. 
  • Rajaraman’s idea for a longer-term solution is to strengthen institutions so that these governmental interactions are able to provide basic services (health, education, justice) in a broad-based, equitable way across the country.
  • She also mentioned that the Vice President recently announced a Revenue Entrepreneurship and Innovation Initiative, which is a partnership between the United States, Guatemala, and private-sector companies to invest in promising small and medium-sized businesses that have developed and are now scaling innovative solutions to development challenges. 
  • Rajaraman closed her remarks by emphasizing the need to strengthen legal pathways in Guatemala, utilize the country’s immense potential to accelerate economic growth, create more jobs, and bring laborers from Guatemala to work for US companies.
  • Louise Bentsen reiterated and supported Rajaraman’s remarks pertaining to the importance of the involvement of private sector partnerships when discussing issues related to immigration. 
  • Bentsen also conveyed the timeliness of this conversation and the importance of making sure that Congress is aware of the fact that this is not a partisan issue.
  • Many governmental entities want to create opportunities in Guatemala and other countries in Central America.
    • Bentsen alluded to how the paradigm of the issues in Guatemala compare to the Eagle Act, which is the House of Representatives’ answer to the rise of China.