The anatomy of an incomplete Central American sob story

An Associated Press sob story materialized in the Colorado Springs Gazette, which proudly proclaims "Pulitzer prize-Winning journalism" in its banner. With creative writing like this, they should indeed win a prize - for pretentious prevarication of premises.

In the May 11, 2017 article Report paints harrowing picture of Central America migration, Peter Orsi writes:

Migrants from Central America's violence-plagued Northern Triangle region endure harrowing abuses while trying to make their way through Mexico toward the United States, a report from an international medical group said Thursday.

Doctors Without Borders, or MSF for its initials in French, called the situation a "humanitarian crisis" that demands the U.S. and Mexican governments do more to process applications for asylum and humanitarian visas.

It said the study was based on surveys and medical data from the last two years and documents "a pattern of violent displacement, persecution, sexual violence and forced repatriation akin to the conditions found in the deadliest armed conflicts in the world today."...

MSF said heightened immigration enforcement by the United States and Mexico threatens to make more refugees and migrants vulnerable to exploitation by smugglers, gangs and corrupt authorities...

Marc Bosch, the group's head of Latin American operations said, "The attempts of stopping migration through the reinforcement of borders, and the increase of detentions and deportations, as we have seen in Mexico and the United States have not ended human trafficking."...

The article is rife with false premises, including:

  • Migrants are being forced into Mexico. In actuality, they weighed the risks and chose to sneak across the Mexican border.
  • Migrants are being forced through Mexico into the United States. Why don't they stay in Mexico? No one is forcing them to migrate to America. 
  • Forced repatriation is in itself an act of violence. It is in reality an act of law enforcement.
  • Heightened immigration enforcement by the United States and Mexico makes migrants more vulnerable. That's the case if migrants who are deported back to their homeland attempt to sneak into Mexico again.
  • Increased enforcement has not ended human trafficking. However, it certainly must have have dissuaded and decreased illegal entry into America.

The overall gist of the article is that the United States is responsible for human rights conditions in Central America's Northern Triangle and that we have an obligation to import the vast majority of that populace in order to remedy the situation. In other words, America is responsible for taking in multitudes of illegal aliens who sneak into Mexico and do not want to stay there. Of course, Mexico's strict policies against illegal immigration discourage illegal aliens from entering, as well as remaining in Mexico. 

This is not to say that violence in Central America should be discounted. Human rights abuses there should not be tolerated. Perhaps Mexico should indeed import the majority of the region's population - but that decision is up to the people of Mexico. Then again, since Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama have much lower levels of violence than El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, perhaps migrants should be directed to sneak into these countries instead of Mexico. 

Many questions remain unanswered: if the United States or Mexico imports the vast majority of the region's population, then what? Will violence suddenly halt? What is the fertility rate of the region? How long until population would replenish to current levels? To what degree is population pressure driving the violence and migratory pressure?


The rest of the story

Highly educated doctors and well-meaning journalists in this case seem to be lacking numeracy - that is, fluency in understanding of mathematics. Let's take a look at the numbers.

The Population Reference Bureau produces an amazing array of data on population and fertility. Population and fertility data were obtained from the PRB 2016 World Population Data Sheet. Calculations were performed as shown below:

Country Current
Projected 2050
Projected 2050
Projected 2050
gain %
Total Fertility
Belize 4.0 6.0 2.0 50% 2.5
Costa Rica 4.9 6.2 1.3 26% 1.8
El Salvador 6.4 6.7 0.3 5% 2.0
Guatemala 16.6 27.6 11.0 66% 3.1
Honduras 8.2 12.6 4.4 54% 2.5
Nicaragua 6.3 9.1 2.8 44% 2.4
Panama 4.0 5.7 1.7 42% 2.4
Northern Triangle
total of
Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador
31.2 46.9 15.7 50% -
Northern Triangle
total as a percent
of Mexico
24% 29% 45% - -
Northern Triangle
total as a percent
of United States
10% 12% 21% - -
Greater Triangle
total of
above countries
50.4 73.9 23.5 47% -
Greater Triangle
total as a percent
of Mexico
39% 45% 67% - -
Greater Triangle
total as a percent
of United States
16% 19% 32% - -
Mexico 128.6 163.8 35.2 27% 2.2
United States 323.9 398.3 74.4 23% 1.8

* Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is the average number of children born to a woman during her lifetime.


Analysis of Northern Triangle data from the above table reveals that right now, population of Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) is 31.2 million. That's 24% of Mexico's 128.6 million population. It's 10% of the United States' 329.3 million population. Neither Mexico nor the United States can realistically absorb the entirety of the Northern Triangle's population.

Furthermore, the Northern Triangle is projected to gain 15.7 million by mid 2050. That's a 50% increase over its current population. Mexico and the United States would have to absorb this 15.7 million over the next 35 years just to keep the greater triangle's population from growing.

Let's consider an enlarged triangle that includes countries to the south of the Northern Triangle, but not Mexico. In the above table, data for Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama are totaled. For analysis, let's call that the "Greater Triangle."

The data show that right now, population of Greater Triangle greater triangle countries is 50.4 million. That's 39% of Mexico's 128.6 million population. It's 16% of the United States' 329.3 million population. Neither Mexico nor the United States can realistically absorb the entirety of the Greater Triangle's population.

Furthermore, the Greater Triangle is projected to gain 23.5 million by mid 2050. That's a 47% increase over its current population. Mexico and the United States would have to absorb this 23.5 million over the next 35 years just to keep the Greater Triangle's population from growing.

It is unfortunate that neither Mexico nor the United States can realistically absorb an adequate fraction of the Northern Triangle's population so as to relieve its population and societal pressures over the next 50 years. 

That's the rest of the story. And it really is sad.




The “Northern Triangle” of Central America: Factors Influencing Today, and What Can Be Done To Help Tomorrow, by Captain xxx xxxxxxx, USMC, Foreign Area Officer in Training, 21 June 2012:
... the “Northern Triangle” of Central America which is formed by the countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. 

Central America’s Violent Northern Triangle, by Danielle Renwick, CFR, January 19, 2016:

Nearly 10 percent of the Northern Triangle countries’ thirty million residents have left, mostly for the United States...

El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras consistently rank among the most violent countries in the world. Gang-related violence in El Salvador brought its homicide rate to ninety per hundred thousand in 2015, making it the most world’s most violent country not at war. All three countries have significantly higher homicide rates than neighboring Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama...

Central America Northern Triangle Homicide Rates 2014


CAIRCO Research

Population Driven to Double by Mass Immigration

Population and Immigration Data, Projections and Graphs - United States

Understanding Population Momentum



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