How the stories of undocumented migrants fleeing to the U.S. from Central America offer insight into the consequences of U.S. and international financing.

“It’s in the water, everybody is sick because it’s in the water,” the El Salvadoran woman suffering from kidney failure kept repeating. There is an epidemic of chronic kidney disease in Central America; she knew it, and I wanted to find out why. There is one particular village of sugar plantation workers in Chichigalpa, Nicaragua, where 75% of the deaths of males aged 35 to 55 were caused by the disease. The World Bank continued to fund the plantation, despite their awareness of the health risks associated to workers and the local community. Unsurprisingly, the causes of the disease are highly politicized and research funded by the sugar industry remains inconclusive; some advocates argue that sugar workers are literally being worked to death by heavy labor in hot temperatures. This, of course, is not the only problem for the tens of thousands of Central Americans.

The lives of immigrants are incredibly intricate, especially the lives of immigrant women on whose backs borders are crossed and crossroads are made just to keep a family fed and alive. It is women’s bodies who most carry politics, and it is immigrant women’s bodies who in making the journey here from “over there” bridge the stories of what has happened there because of what we decided here. This was made clear during my first job out of college assisting undocumented immigrants, like the above-mentioned woman from El Salvador. She suffered from chronic kidney disease and my job was to get her the health insurance she needed to receive dialysis. During her application interview, I learned that she and her child came to the U.S. seeking peace after what was an arduous journey facing environmental injustice and extreme violence in El Salvador.

The surge of women and children fleeing the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras) to the U.S. are due to, among other things, the high female and child murder rates and violence by organized armed criminal actors in the region. El Salvador and Guatemala have the first and second highest child murder rates in the world and Honduras and El Salvador rank first and third for rates of female homicide globally.

Today’s violence in El Salvador is in part due to the repercussions of the civil war during the 1980s where thousands fled the country for the U.S. During that time the Reagan administration, in an effort to fight socialism, supported the military-backed government with arms and financing, as it also did for Nicaragua’s Contras, and Guatemala’s then-military regime – both with extensive records of human rights abuses. The El Salvadoran military-backed government also committed human rights violations including mass killings. In 1990 when the UN became involved the U.S. stopped financing the El Salvadoran government. During this civil war, even Berta Caceres’s mother, who was also a social justice activist in Honduras (a country that had the U.S. training Honduran troops during this period), took in refugees from El Salvador. However, many of those young men who fled ended up in U.S. ghettos, eventually joining gangs for the first time as a means for protection and livelihood. Congress, in return, as a means to get tough on illegal immigration, made it possible for tens of thousands of undocumented men convicted for gang-related activities to be deported to El Salvador. In a country plagued by severe poverty, corruption, and limited resources for repatriation, these men were able to recruit mass amount of teens and young men by offering money or through coercive means.

Thus a cycle of violence in the country was continued leading up to the surge of children and women currently leaving the country to enter the U.S. Adding to the violence and corruption, in recent years the Northern Triangle has seen an encroachment of the drug trade into the region fueled by U.S. demand. For all these reasons, my client and her child fled to the U.S. Unfortunately, Berta Caceres’s death is one of many for women constantly living under threat in the Northern Triangle, the world’s most violent region not at war. In 2014 the U.S. responded to the thousands of women with children fleeing this region with a detention as deterrence blanket policy, and provided private prison companies with contracts to operate family detention centers, including a $1 billion dollar four year contract.

My client carried with her the history of U.S. interventions and business investments like the World Bank financing the expansion of sugar plantations in the region that is supposed to “fight poverty” and foster democracy but instead have fostered violence, corruption, and disease as economic and environmental conditions worsen. Finding the answer to foster peace is a difficult task, but the first step must be to undo mythological borders and traverse the crossroads that these women have left for us in order to better understand how the U.S. can turn around its policy dealing with victims for the better within and outside its southern border. Detention of asylum seekers and mass deportations is certainly not the answer and never will be.