Tegucigalpa: The harsh anti-immigration stance of US presidential candidate Donald Trump has fueled a surge in the number of migrants from Central America trying to enter America before it`s too late, officials in the region said.
Although Trump appeared this week to be rowing back some of his tougher language against undocumented migrants, the exodus was already underway, some officials said on Thursday.
"We have seen an increase in migration in the past few months and it is very clear that it has to do with the electoral process that is happening in the United States," Honduras` deputy foreign minister, Maria Andrea Matamoros, said.
"We have learned that the message `coyotes` (people smugglers) are giving is: `It`s now or never. If you don`t make it to the United States right now, you won`t be able to, because they are going to build a wall," she said at a conference jointly organized with the International Organization for Migration (IOM).The migratory flow is essentially from Central America`s so-called Northern Triangle made up of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Those three nations, prey to vicious gang violence, rampant corruption and poverty over the years have seen large numbers of undocumented migrants to the US.
Trump has become the Republican Party`s candidate with promises that include having a wall built along the US-Mexican border to keep out unwanted migrants.
Although many analysts see the wall idea as unfeasible, and Trump reportedly has softened his tone somewhat since last weekend, Central Americans are already said to be in the pipeline headed to the US.
"More and more people argue... that they are getting information from certain places saying `Come now because we don`t know what`s going to happen`," after the US elections, the IOM`s mission chief for the Northern Triangle, Jorge Peraza, said.
"However there are also people saying `Don`t come because it`s not the right time because maybe the next president with bring in anti-immigration policies`," he added.Peraza said factors encouraging some to make the journey to the US include a lack of jobs, the desire to be with family members already in America, and violence they face in their home countries -- a growing motivator.
Ricardo Puerta, a sociologist originally from Cuba who has studied migration issues for more than 30 years, said that 90 percent of Hondurans emigrated because of lack of employment. The other 10 percent leave to reunite with their families or to escape violence.
A researcher at a non-governmental group called Casa Alianza, Jaime Flores, said he had received many accounts from Hondurans saying they were leaving because of violence.
He noted cases where Honduran children were murdered because they refused to join gangs.
"Now some girls are forcibly grabbed to be `collective women` for the gangs or the gang`s boss, otherwise they will be killed or a member of their family will be killed," he said.
Puerta said promised US aid of $750 million to the Northern Triangle, to promote security and economic opportunities in the hope of curbing emigration, was "an inflated balloon."
The initiative, championed by outgoing US President Barack Obama, was announced in 2014 in the wake of a massive wave of unaccompanied Central American children entering the United States. That phenomenon persists, although at a lower level.
More than 68,000 children from the Northern Triangle countries headed to the US this year, according to authorities.