July 2014

By Hugo W. Merida –

& Reny M. Bake –

The phoenix is a mythical bird that symbolizes rebirth, arising from the ashes of its previous incarnation. After the news that the US Immigration Reform was dead, at least for the year 2014 due to the crisis of children at the border, the issue of TPS (Temporary Protected Status) came up in a meeting in congresswoman Pelosi’s office. This took place but a few days before President Perez Molina was to request TPS of Vice President Biden during his visit to Guatemala. It should be noted that only Guatemalans lack TPS from the so-called Northern Triangle Countries (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador), from whence the majority of the children are leaving. Rural Guatemala is desperately poor, but U.S. law does not recognize poverty as an acceptable reason to avoid deportation. Judges only tend to be willing to protect children from specific threats of violence.[1]

To approve TPS, the secretary of Homeland Security should designate Guatemala for protection due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent its nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may grant TPS to eligible nationals who are already in the United States. The secretary may designate a country for TPS due to “other extraordinary and temporary conditions” such as the recent children crisis where Guatemala is one of the most affected. The accompanying map clearly shows the origins of the unaccompanied children arriving to the US.

Guatemalan children are leaving mostly from the western rural area and the region around the capital.

According to the document “Profile of Guatemalan Migrants in the US,” as of June 2014, more than half of Guatemalans in the United States have come to the country since 2000 and they are mostly men of working age. From this study and our experience working with Guatemalan migrants, we can say that the majority of Guatemalans have come to US seeking work to support their families, and to be able to return home to build their family houses and to capitalize on SMEs there to start their own businesses.Source: Culturally, Guatemalans from rural areas traditionally migrate seasonally to find work in agriculture, construction or the service sector where Spanish, rather than their native language, is used. Upon completion of this temporary work, they return to their villages of origin and their families, whom they have left there, preferring to keep them in the social environment with their native language and ancestral customs.

That pattern of internal migration to harvest seasonal coffee and sugar crops was affected by the 1998 coffee crisis. Not finding employment in country, the trend to migrate to the United States in search of that seasonal work began. With the ever-increasing difficulty to enter and exit the US, however, years began to pass without Guatemalan migrants in the US seeing their families. As a consequence, they began to bring their children in the interests of family reunification, or, in the case of older children, to also find work. In rural Guatemala, a child of 14 years and older is considered an adult and capable of working to help support the family. This is common not only in Guatemala but throughout Latin America. Recently in Bolivia, a law was passed allowing children ten years of age or older to labor in the community.

It is noteworthy that if more than half of Guatemalans in the United States have come since 2000, the migratory flow has nonetheless accelerated dramatically since 2007. Until now this migration has consisted mostly men, under the illusion that it would be relatively easy to return home on occasion to visit their families. What will transpire in the next few years will be a marked increase in women and children traveling illegally to the US in an effort to reunite their families. The adoption of immigration reform, or at the very least TPS, would be decidedly positive for the Guatemalan immigrants in the US, since it is estimated that more than three-fifths of the number of them are undocumented.

TPS has long been a goal of both the Guatemalan government and migrant advocacy organizations in the US and Guatemala who would like to see unauthorized Guatemalans receive protected status from the US government. TPS allows migrants from a designated country to live and work legally in the US but does not provide a path to permanent residence; it is intended as a temporary relief measure for those suffering from natural disasters, ongoing conflicts, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions.

The United States granted TPS more than fourteen years ago to migrants from Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador. After Hurricane Stan in 2005, the Guatemalan government tried to convince the United States to grant Guatemalans TPS status as well, but those efforts failed.

It is widely known that the refusal to grant TPS to Guatemala is due to the Guatemalan Government did not supported the Iraq War. This is in spite of the fact that the first casualty of the Iraq war was Marine Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, who died in southern Iraq on March 21, 2003. Gutierrez was 22, and an illegal immigrant who, having no hope in Guatemala, came to the US for a better life, and gave his life in defense of our nation.

Now, in 2014, Guatemala is an ally of the US in its war against drug trafficking, and it is a strategic partner for the reducing the influx of migrants to US. According to the 2013 State Department International Narcotics Strategy Report (INCSR),

“President Otto Perez Molina, who took office in January 2012, made combating drug trafficking one of his administration’s top priorities. His government remained a partner on counternarcotic in 2012. Perez Molina created a new Vice Ministry for Counter Narcotics within the Ministry of Government. The Vice Minister coordinates the government’s extensive anti-drug efforts and established a mobile land interdiction unit charged with targeting DTOs operating in remote areas. Clandestine lab interdiction and the eradication of opium poppy decreased in 2012, largely as a result of the government’s counternarcotic initiatives”. [2]

This support from the Government of Guatemala in the fight against drugs and its importance to reduce the flow of migrants is demonstrated by the continuous visits of US senior officials to Guatemala in recent months, to a much greater extent than to Honduras and El Salvador.

Guatemalan Immigrant – Economic Conditions

In general, remittances reduce the number and severity of poverty, and lead to a greater accumulation of human capital; increased spending on health and education; better access to information technologies and communications and to formal financial services; better investments in small businesses; more business training; better preparation for adverse contingencies, earthquakes and cyclones[3], and less child labor.

Diasporas may represent an important source of exchange, capital, technology and knowledge to both countries of origin and destination. It is estimated that remittances to developing countries—officially registered—reached $404 billion in 2013, representing an increase of 3.3% in comparison with the previous year.

The remittances from Guatemalan emigrants have been and will continue to be a fundamental keystone of economic support for hundreds of thousands of urban and rural families. In 2013, they amounted to US$5.4 billion for the first time ever. The impact around the country, especially in the rural areas is unimaginable, to the extent that the remittances now exceed the total volume of Guatemala annual exports or income from tourism.

According to Guatemala’s central bank, Guatemalans working in the US sent $2.8 billion from January through June 2014 in money transfers to families living in Guatemala, a 9% increase over the same period in 2013, spite of the massive deportations. The TPS will benefit more than half of the estimated 1.5 million Guatemalans living in the United States, all of them, somehow, are sending to closed relatives money transfers. The Guatemalan people cannot afford the loss of their second largest source of national revenue or the increased costs associated with the return of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of deported Guatemalans from the US.

It is worthy to note that, according to the document “The profile of the population of Guatemalan origin in the United States” from the IDB, CEMLA and MIF of June 2014, the majority of Guatemalan migrants are men of work age and by percentage sent more of their income to Guatemala in relation to other migrant groups. Currently, the money sent by migrants to Guatemala is equivalent to more than 10% of the Guatemala gross domestic product (GDP).

Immigrants and – Corporate Guatemala

In spite of the remittances, Guatemalan conditions have become unsustainable due to the continuous deterioration of the economic and social levels as stated by the recent report[4] of Fragile States, placing the country in position 66, one position lower than the previous year. The report refers to loss of effective control due to the high insecurity and unsatisfied basic needs and low growth. This report was re-affirmed by an officer of FUNDESA (an elite Guatemalan business group) who requested to strengthen the Guatemalan institutions in order to reduce “the perception” of corruption and to generate more opportunities to reduce migration[5].

Of special note is the initiative labeled Law of Investment and Employment (Ley de Promocion de Inversion y Empleo), Initiative 4644 of the Ministry of Economy, which will provide great exemptions to corporate Guatemala, but that sector does nothing to support Guatemalan emigrants.

The Chamber of Commerce of Guatemala and the International Monetary Fund have been strong critics of that measure, believing that it will negatively affect tax revenue, thereby creating an economic crisis in Guatemala, which could lead to increased migration to the US as one of its consequences.

In spite of the financial support by Guatemalan migrants, through the money transfers, the Guatemalan government continues to ignore them. Guatemalan and American small businesses are going to be economically segregated if Initiative 4644 is approved by the Guatemalan congress by not taxing US or Guatemala companies over $500,000. Thirty percent of the money transferred is invested in Guatemala by the migrants. In addition, American business as a whole will wind up paying income taxes on investment profit generated in Guatemala, according to US tax laws.

FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act), recently enacted, has as its main mission to control tax evasion by US taxpayers on overseas investments, by identifying US citizens and residents with funds and other assets outside of the country. FATCA is seeking to avoid tax evasion and contribution through direct and indirect mechanism of investment in other countries, especially in those with fiscal advantages as in the case of Initiative 4644.[6] In addition, there is no competence law (DR CAFTA compromise) or any interest for American small businesses.

Migrants in the – Guatemalan Political Scene

It is unfortunate the lack of support for its nationals living in US by the Guatemalan government, it has been from negligible to negative.

In 2007, due to pressure from organized Guatemalan immigrants—among them, the oldest, most vocal and articulated group, The National Coalition of Guatemalan Immigrants in the United States (CONGUATE)[7]—the Guatemalan Congress formed a Commission for Migrant Affairs that is supposed to support and regulate immigration activities and programs. The Commission successfully passed Decree 46-2007, “Ley del Consejo Nacional de Atención al Migrante de Guatemala” (CONAMIGUA). This law and its subsequent changes, created a government entity with the mandate to coordinate, define, supervise and support actions developed by the state of Guatemala in migration matters.

The migrants presented through several organization in US, their interests, needs, and views in written proposals to create the law. In the process of approval, a white elephant was created which, through the years, the original intention to create the law became useless; controlled by three government bureaucrats. As of today, Conamigua has generated confrontations between their administration and the immigrant groups with no positive results or advancements for the migrants.

As for the Guatemalan government, the only successful migrant activity that has benefitted them is the diminutive fund of US$50,000 to repatriate the remains of immigrants who die in the United States when their families cannot afford to pay.

Because of the abuses committed by Guatemalan Government agencies, especially Renap (constitutional violations)[8], Conamigua (violation of Conamigua Law)[9], Migración (creating passport scarcity) under the complacency of the executive—the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Economy and others—immigrants through organizations around US—with the most proactive, La Mesa Comunitaria Guatemalteca de Los Angeles (MCTG)—have taken an aggressive stance to avoid further abuses and to protect the community they represent. They are also getting involved in the political process, by questioning potential candidates and political parties about support for immigrants. More than one and half Guatemalan voters live in US and they are ready to influence directly their family members in Guatemala to vote a way that benefit immigrants the most.

They are pressing for more control in Guatemalan immigrant issues, an overall supervision of the Conamigua Administration, new law of competence, tax exemption for immigrant businesses, and supervision of the funds invested or spend by US Government and their agencies.

Immigrants and the US Government

President Obama has so far failed to respond to TPS requests from both former President Colom and current President Otto Perez Molina. Instead, he has consistently touted how many illegal immigrants have been deported. under his watch, to Latin America were deported 357,422; 47,769 of whom were Guatemalan in 2013[10]. The deportations alone create constant pressure in Guatemala in its fragile state and further increase the poverty levels in the marginal areas of that country.

Obama should move to extend Temporary Protected Status to our Guatemalan neighbor so that the country can save resources to serve immigrant children and their families in the US and avoid the additional challenge of dealing with the deportation of thousands.

The influx in the US of undocumented Latin Americans is due to our decades of financial and political support to the wealthy elite and to military and dictatorial governments throughout the Americas.

The abuse and abandonment by both governments—Guatemalan and US—has forced Guatemalans living in the US to organize, to start participating, and to vocalize their demands for better treatment and improvement of their economic conditions.

Supported by powerful Latino businesses, organizations and other immigrant communities around the nation, Guatemalans have begun to demand what they believe they deserve. After all, 30% of the Guatemalans in the US are now American citizens.

As US citizens, they can approach their congressman or the Subcommittee of the Western Hemisphere of the Foreign Affairs Committee to demand more responsible use of their tax money. The can also demand of the powerful Ways and Means Committee to curtail the investment and expenditure to the private sector and the government of Guatemala.

The Phoenix from the Ashes – The Guatemalan TPS

The secretary of Homeland Security has the authority to “designate a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately”.

Central America is a region that suffers from frequent natural disasters, including earthquakes, tropical storms and volcanic eruptions, as well as the effects of armed conflict in Central America in the 80s in the context of the Cold War. Guatemala has almost 30 years of democracy now and more than 15 years since the signing the peace ending the conflict. But the country is still slowly recovering from those events. It has the highest rate in Latin America of young people who do not find employment and suffers the growing power of drug traffickers and gangs.

Guatemala has a privileged geographical location, since it is the only country—along with Belize—that physically borders Mexico, the area of responsibility of the US Southern Command. The war against drug trafficking in Mexico has affected a breakthrough of the Zetas into Guatemala and nearly half of the country is under the influence of drug trafficking[11]. In certain areas of the country, the options for young people are joining the narcotrafficking culture or travelling illegally to the United States in search of work.

A country with a population that is 60% indigenous[12] where over 50 percent of the population lives in poverty is having a difficult time recovering. TPS would provide a temporary reprieve for the one and a half million Guatemalan immigrants living in the US, perhaps as many as 60 or 70 percent without the proper documentation, until the country was able to recover from the disasters. They would not be removed from the country because of their immigration status; they would be able to obtain a work permit and may be granted travel authorization to see their families and children.

TPS isn’t a magical solution to the migratory challenges that confront the US and its southern neighbors—the US still needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The US and Latin America should also work to design a more humane migratory system. However, that will take time. Right now, TPS is one tool that the executive branch has at its disposal and one that can have a positive effect on the lives of millions of people in Guatemala and in the United States.[13]


[1] LATIMES, July 10, 2014

[2] htm#Guatemala

[3] Guatemala ha sufrido en la última década dos grandes huracanes, Stan (2005), Agatha (2010). Incluyo una erupción volcánica también. Y dos terremotos en el occidente del país, de donde proviene la mayoría de los migrantes en EEUU, en los años 2012 y 2014.

[4] El 2014 Index of Fragile States by Foreign Policy and Fund for Peace, places Guatemala in the group of countries counted with a Fragile State (66 with 80.3 points), in matters relates to political, economic and social demands to the State. A fragile State refers to a government that has lost effective control of its territory, shown by its high insecurity index and violence, a high percentage of unsatisfied basic needs and low growth.

[5] Juan Carlos Zapata, Executive Director of Fundación para el Desarrollo de Guatemala (Fundesa), stated ..”It is important to pay attention to these studies and an effort should be made to strengthen the institutions, reduce the corruption perception and the generation of higher opportunities to reduce the migration. This weak state reflects much more the economic, commercial, and of investment than one that relates with its migrant community. – translated from El Periódico July 3, 2014


[7] Founded in 1998, the National Coalition of Guatemalan Immigrants in the United States (CONGUATE) aimed to influence migrant-related policy in both countries. In Guatemala, CONGUATE, through the years, has been working toward economic development and the strengthening of democracy in Guatemala, including giving Guatemalans abroad the right to vote. Thanks in part to CONGUATE’s efforts, the Guatemalan government created a Deputy Ministry for Human Rights and Migrant Affairs that publicizes the difficulties facing potential migrants going to the United States. To that end, the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman signed an agreement with CONGUATE to monitor and protect migrants’ rights. MPI: Guatemala: Economic Migrants Replace Political Refugees.

[8]Prensa Libre Newspaper – June 19, 2014, Migrant Section

[9] When the Guatemala Congress elaborate given life to the National Advisory for Migrant Attention of Guatemala (Consejo Nacional de Atención al Migrante de Guatemala -CONAMIGUA), the congressmen left many loopholes in the in the law to prevent migrants from being integral parts of the Advisory. Migrants do not have a seat in the National Executive Advisory of Conamigua because the congressmen in writing the law placed the text “The migrants have representation with voice without vote”. translated from Los Bastardos de Guatemala – May 24, 2013 – David Quiroa, President of Alianza por Guatemala.


[11] As of 2010, it was calculated that 40 % of Guatemalan territory was under narcotraffic control translated from
[12] 60% of the country’s total population, or around 6 million inhabitants are made up of indigenous Peoples. The human development report from 2008 indicates that 73% are poor and 26% are extremely poor (as opposed to 35% and 8 % respectively of the non-indigenous population). International Workgroup for Indian Affairs -2013.

[13] Mike Allison is associate professor in the Political Science


About the Authors:

Reny Bake is Guatemalan born of a Netherlands father and a Guatemalan mother, and raised in the rural area of Guatemala. She worked on DR CAFTA negotiations and other FTAs for Guatemala. She is an International Visitor Leadership Program alumnus (US Dept. Of State, 2005) and graduated from the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies /National Defense University (DOD) where her coursework included “Estrategia y política de defense” (2009) and “Advanced Civil-Political-Military relations and democratic leadership”. She is presently a weekly economics columnist for the most prestigious Guatemalan newspaper, and an economic analyst and university professor in Guatemala. She has worked on several analyses related to the Guatemalan and Central American economies.

Hugo W. Merida – is Guatemalan born, raised in Los Angeles, California, and became a public accountant upon graduation from CSU-Los Angeles. He has been very close to organized businesses, trade and investment sectors in California, holding different positions in business groups and foundations for more than three decades, where he has been supporting and helping the US Latino community against social and economic discrimination. At present, he is the Chairman of the Board for the Los Angeles Metro Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, acting director for four community and business organizations and he is the Conamigua Elected Representative for the Guatemala Consular Jurisdiction in Los Angeles, and still practices tax and fiscal defense through a private practice in Los Angeles.

department at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.

Categories LATINOS IN USA, politicaTags , ,

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