Global Migration: The World Has Changed

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A recent NBC News article discusses a new migration pattern to the US, which was once a regional phenomenon originating from Southern neighboring countries but has now become global, involving people from around the world. Now, these immigrants are coming from the world’s most populous countries, including Africa, Eastern Europe, and every region in Asia.

An NBC News analysis of newly released data from the Department of Homeland Security shows a fundamental shift. Before the pandemic, roughly 9 in 10 migrants crossing the border illegally (that is, between ports of entry) came from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — the four countries closest to the border. Those countries no longer hold the majority: As of 2023, for the first time since the U.S. has collected such data, half of all migrants who cross the border now come from elsewhere globally.

The greatest numbers have come from countries farther away in the Americas that have never before sent migrants to the border at this scale. In the 2019 fiscal year, for example, the number of Colombians apprehended illegally crossing the border was 400. In fiscal 2023, it exploded to 154,080 — a nearly four-hundred-fold increase.

– NBC News

According to NBC News, WeChat, a widely-used messaging app from China, has become essential for migrants seeking to connect with smugglers, known as “snakeheads,” who assist them in their journeys. This digital connection has simplified the process of gathering information, planning routes, and maintaining contact with family. However, it also exposes migrants to risks, as these networks often exploit them, subjecting them to perilous conditions and financial exploitation. This situation highlights a broader trend where technology both empowers and jeopardizes vulnerable populations.

In a interview with the NBC News, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, described how the immigration has changed he world.

Fundamentally, our system is not equipped to deal with migration as it exists now, not just this year and last year and the year before, but for years preceding us. We have a system that was last modified in 1996. We’re in 2024 now. The world has changed.

Alejandro Mayorkas, Homeland Security Secretary

An expert on migration to the U.S.-Mexico border at the Washington Office on Latin America think tank, Adam Isacson, told NBC News:

Different networks often specialize in specific nationalities,. So if you’re Somali, you arrive in Quito and join a group of Somalis that’s already underway. One smuggler hands you off to another, and the network of relationships goes all the way up to the U.S.-Mexico border.

In 2021, the gateway to the Darien was just local Afro-Colombian and Indigenous people working as guides. By 2022, the Gulf Clan took over, and you suddenly had a clear route. They were advertising, there were people there ready to take your money, and it was all much more organized.

Adam Isacson, Latin America Think Tank

Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former longtime official with DHS and Customs and Border Protection:

Our existing infrastructure, processes and personnel were no longer matching what was happening on the ground.

To manage regional migration flows, you need to get the cooperation of a few countries. To deal with hemispheric migration flows, you need about 20 countries. To deal with global migration flows — now you’re talking about hundreds of countries.

We’re at an inflection point. We have to recognize that what’s happening at our border is a microcosm of what’s happening everywhere. This is not a U.S.-Mexico border problem. This is now a worldwide issue.

Theresa Cardinal Brown

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) emphasizes the importance of comprehensive strategies to tackle the underlying reasons for migration in the Western Hemisphere. This includes addressing economic instability, violence, and environmental degradation. In Central America, for example, many people are driven to seek better opportunities abroad due to economic hardships exacerbated by climate change and ongoing violence.

Acknowledgements: The initial draft of this post was generated using ChatGPT-4o.

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