SEATTLE, Washington — To understand the subsequent factors of poverty and how it can lead to migration, one must first understand what poverty entails. Living in poverty means being financially insecure, but it also means lacking the vital resources to survive day-to-day. Moreover, this lack of resources can lead to starvation, the loss of land and home and even the sacrifice of children’s education. In this article, I will outline the correlation between immigration and poverty and share a Mexican immigrant’s story that shows the falsehood of immigrant stereotypes such as them being job-takers or criminals.
Poverty and Migration
The relationship between immigration and poverty may seem simple. With a lack of food, poor education, malnutrition and little to no healthcare, its no wonder those suffering seek a better life in places like the United States, Saudi Arabia, Canada and Germany. In fact, the U.S. is the top destination for immigrants. In 2015 alone, the U.S. housed 48 million foreigners, Saudi Arabia welcomed 11 million and Canada had 7.6 million.
Of course, these numbers are only a fraction of how many people leave their home country searching for safety and stability worldwide. In 2015, the World Bank found that 10% of the world’s population, or 734 million people, live in extreme poverty with $1.90 a day. While this percentage fell by nearly 36% from 1990, or 1.9 billion people living in extreme poverty, the current poverty rate is still high.
Moreover, living in poverty does not just entail being financially unstable; it also means having limited access to essential needs such as food, education and healthcare. Despite the stereotypes of immigrants crossing the border of other countries to work illegally, immigration and escaping poverty is about the hope of finding any opportunity to sustain one’s own and their loved ones’ lives.
3 Reasons People Living in Poverty Immigrate that are Often Overlooked
- Persecution — Countries’ societal opinion and systemic persecution vary when it comes to religion, sexual orientation and political views. For example, Iran and Afghanistan criminalize the LGBTQ+ community, and the punishment is often death. Another example is the countries’ differing acceptance of specific religions. In Somalia, where the majority practices Islam, it is incredibly dangerous to be a Christian because they are often under constant threat.
- Environmental Factors — Climate change is also an influential factor in immigration and poverty. Climate change has and will continue to substantially influence food security, land and agriculture practices and water resources. People who live and depend on agricultural lands to make a living may migrate to another country because bad seasons and lost crops make immigration their only option.
- Violence — Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras (also known as the Northern Triangle) are just a few countries in Central America that experience high violence rates. Many individuals and families are fleeing these countries because they fear for their own and their children’s lives. For decades, this Northern Triangle has been experiencing civil war and political volatility, which has created criminal and gang association. Furthermore, in Latin America, Honduras and El Salvador have the highest femicide rates, which is the sex-based crime of killing women and girls.
Misconceptions of Immigrants
Once immigrants cross the border into their potential new homeland, many are met with hostility. This can be disheartening for many who have made a tumultuous journey to a foreign place to make a better life for themselves or their family.
While there are many misconceptions about immigrants, it usually starts with their status or citizenship. While there are individuals who cross a border illegally and may remain that way for years, many obtain the correct documents to live in the country legally. In the U.S., approximately 76% of immigrants have lawful status, whether that means being a citizen, holding a green-card or obtaining a student or work visa.
Another common misconception about immigrants is that they take away jobs that would otherwise be held by native citizens. Yet, this is often not the case as the immigration process requires either the completion of re-education programs or years of experience in a field, meaning immigrants have to start from the bottom once again as they have done in their home countries. As a result, many work low-paying manual jobs that are often not in their field of study or experience once they immigrate. For example, in Canada, immigrants are more likely to work lower-skilled jobs or do manual work jobs that many Canadian-born citizens usually avoid. Moreover, an immigrant’s foreign job qualifications are often not seen as equal to their Canadian counterparts, so the immigrant community often does not receive the same opportunities as native Canadians. While many countries are slowly working to make immigrant settlement more accessible, it is still a prevalent challenge many immigrants face today.
One final misconception is that immigrants settle in the few countries mentioned previously, primarily the U.S. Although these countries are where many see a stable future for themselves, that does not mean they always make it there. In reality, many immigrants move from one developing country to another. Unfortunately for many, arriving at an economically stable state is not always possible.
A Jalisco, Mexico Native’s Story
Celia Gómez was born in Jalisco, Mexico in 1953 and migrated to the United States in the early 1970s. In the following years, she became a U.S. citizen under the Reagan administration. Gómez, her husband, Gambino, and her six children made a life for themselves in California, all while owning and operating their own small business. Her expedition here, though for the better, was not always easy.
For her, poverty was the driving force. Gómez and her family lived on a ranch in Jalisco and “depended on Mother Nature and the water cycles” for their land to thrive. Her life was difficult. She lived off maize, zucchini, peas and beans, her family had no money to buy clothing, and healthcare was not an option. She shares, “We depended on herbs from the countryside. A cousin of ours taught us how to read and write— that was our education.” On top of it all, when Gómez’s father died, her 32-year-old mother had to raise six children alone.
The driving force behind her decision to move to the U.S. was her cousin’s experience of making a living and supporting her family abroad. A short time after, Gómez, one of her brothers and her mother, decided to leave Jalisco. Today, her children are grown and happy, and Gómez and her husband have paid off their home and continue to run their business, which centers around landscape and arboriculture.
The youngest of Gómez’s daughters, Marisela, says her parents are her inspiration, and she hopes to make them proud of the life she lives. She says, “For many years, what inspired me most about my parents was their ambition and willingness to act on their desires, irrespective of the outcome. My father, in fact, illegally crossed the border 16 times—always with the heart and intention to establish himself in the States.” She also adds that her parents, through trial and tribulation, have given her and her siblings not just economic stability but endless opportunities and have planted seeds for them to be successful and prosperous.
Despite the negative connotations that are often associated with immigrants, they all have their reasons for leaving their home countries. Whether it be a corrupt government, poor education, civil war or poverty, immigrants worldwide strive for a place to live safely and with wholesome occasions to grow. Moreover, immigrants seek to fight their way out of poverty and into a home that gives them opportunities to succeed.