Mexico has rapidly become a major site of transmigration from Central America to the United States, as people move in search of employment opportunities or escape from social violence. This rise in migrant flows from Mexico’s southern border overlaps with problems of control of contraband, organised crime, and the trafficking of drugs and arms. However, the government’s militarised approach to the phenomenon means that the use of force and human rights violations go unresolved and military approaches to preserving public order go unchecked. As long as migration remains a security issue, instead of a developmental and human rights matter, it will not be tackled appropriately. Instead, the government must start to view the matter through a citizen, not national, security lens.
Widespread social exclusion makes El Salvador fertile ground for gang proliferation and, over time, gang members have resorted to greater levels of violence and drug activity. Yet, government approaches have proved spectacularly ineffective: the homicide rate escalated, and gangs have adapted to the climate of repression by toughening their entry requirements, adopting a more conventional look, and using heavier weaponry. Sonja Wolf argues for approaches which focus on prevention and rehabilitation and looks at why such approaches have been continually sidelined.