New Research Explains Why Immigrants Are Fleeing Latin America

CREDIT: AP Photo/Felix Marquez

Relatives try identify their missing loved ones at the morgue of Cosamaloapan, with the hope of finding their bodies, retreived from a mass grave which has been recently discovered, in Veracruz , Mexico, Wednesday, June 18, 2014. More than two dozen bodies have been recovered from the mass grave in Veracruz, an eastern Mexican state plagued by attacks on migrants and drug cartel violence, officials said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Felix Marquez)

The life expectancy in Mexico has been increasing for six decades. But between 2005 and 2010, homicide became a major factor undermining that trend — decreasing the average life expectancy of adult men and slowing down gains for adult women — according to a UCLA Fielding School of Public Health study published Tuesday.

“Our results indicate that homicides can have a large impact on the average years of life of a population,” Hiram Beltrán-Sánchez, a lead investigator on the study and assistant professor of community health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, said. “Violence in Mexico has spread throughout the entire country, so our findings suggest that homicides need to be addressed from a public health perspective to improve peoples’ lives.”

Most states in Mexico saw an increase in male life expectancy between 2000 and 2005 — from 72 years up to 72.5 years by the first half of the decade. But by 2010, that average fell by about six months in two-thirds of Mexican states. The study found that there was a rise in Mexico’s homicide rate beginning in 2006 when then-President Felipe Calderon launched a large-scale government crackdown against the country’s drug cartels.

Between 2005 and 2010, homicide contributed to cutting down the life expectancy of men living in the violence-besieged states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Durango, Guerrero, and Nayarit. In those places, life expectancy dropped by at least one year. In Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Durango, men lost an average of three years. Homicide also slowed down the life expectancy of women, especially in northern states; it’s down six months in Chihuahua and down three months in Durango and Sinaloa.

The study could actually be underestimating the nation’s homicide rate, given that many deaths have gone unreported or underreported.

“The impact of homicides on the average years of life in Mexico is probably worse than we report, because other studies indicate a large number of missing individuals and many deaths that were never recorded,” Beltrán-Sánchez added.

In 2005, Mexico’s homicide rates was 9.5 homicides per 100,000 people. By 2010, that rate more than doubled to 22 per 100,000. Homicides have not subsided — May 2015 saw at least 1,621 homicides, marking one of the deadliest months since January 2014.

Though the rate of homicides and gang violence in Mexico is extreme, it’s still not the worst in the world. In Central America, El Salvador’s murder rate in 2015 went up 70 percent from 2014, likely making it the world’s new murder capital ahead of Honduras.

The sharp uptick in deaths could help to explain why there has been another unprecedented number of Latin Americans, including unaccompanied minor children, showing up on the southern U.S. border in the last half of 2015. Since 2014, large numbers of people seeking some form of humanitarian relief in the U.S. primarily crossed through Texas, with claims of escaping violence, danger, and poverty in their home countries.

Over the weekend, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested and started the deportation proceedings of primarily Central American mothers and children who entered the country after mid-2014. Immigrant advocates have since decried the administration’s actions as a violation of due process and cautioned people from opening their doors to ICE agents asking to speak with them. Lawyers, meanwhile, have scrambled to obtain emergency protection, notably halting the deportation of about 12 sets of Central American families. At least three women, one of whom may suffer medical seizures, was taken off an ICE plane on Thursday morning, according to sources familiar with the situation.

“These families had finally found a little bit of safety and security after fleeing countries where they were subject to threats, extortion, assault and worse,” Katie Shepherd, Managing Attorney for the CARA Project, said in a press statement on Wednesday. The CARA project took the lead on appealing the asylum cases for families to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and requested emergency stays of deportation. “To undertake the journey to safety was not a decision any mother would make lightly. But now they’ve had that security torn away from them, their children rousted from their homes and incarcerated with the threat of deportation looming. … This is the latest the long line of abhorrent government actions that make it clear that our government fails to understand that these individuals are asylum seekers fleeing violence and seeking protection in the United States.”