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Every parent wants a better life for their children than they had. Unfortunately, for many immigrants around the world, especially those in South American Latin America, that is impossible. Immigrants want their nations to provide them with better nutrients, protection, economic opportunity, and freedom and when that doesn’t happen, they make the difficult choice to leave their other family and friends behind and make the physically, relationally, economically, and emotionally difficult decision to immigrate to another country, usually America. In addition to the incredibly challenging hardships that they already face, there is a geographic monster standing in their way, the Darien Gap.

The Darien Gap is an immense roadless gap of sixty miles that features environments of jungles, mountains, swamps, and every South American immigrant traveling north must pass through. The Gap separates the lands of Panama and Colombia and is the only gap in the Pan-American Highway that travels from Alaska to Argentina and is a major travel artery. This path is a necessary difficulty due to the crackdown on both air and sea migration routes and the increasing visa requirements in a misguided attempt to deter migration. Challenges faced by these immigrants include fighting against disease, the terrain itself, and a myriad of safety concerns and the increased rates of overall damage to the local indigenous populations and lands. 

A map of the Darien Gap

The Gap is a challenge to navigate not only because of its geographic and ecological challenges, but also due to its additional geopolitical challenges. The Gap is under the control of criminal organizations and enterprises and they require the desperate migrants to pay one of their guides to get them through a journey of between four and ten days without cellular service. That payment, however, does not ensure safe passage. Some of the very organizations they pay for their services set up robberies and physical and sexual violence to further fleece their enforced clients. 

According to the Missing Migrant Project, over one hundred and forty-one people died in 2023 in the Gap, but that is undercounting those who were unknown or undocumented migrants, those who were kidnapped or murdered by criminals and simply disappeared, or those who lacked family and friends to report them missing. Due to the challenging terrains, there are a variety of bodily injuries that occur and there are bodies of fallen migrants in the muck alongside the pathway. Physical challenges include air, water, fungal, and insect borne illnesses; bumps and bruises; bone breaks and temperature enhanced dehydration. 

While the situation is unfortunate all on its own, governmental complicity certainly adds an additional measure of misery. Colombian judicial authorities have intermittently cracked down on the boat traffic escorting migrants according to their whim or that of international authorities including the United States government according to the NY Times. Many conservative and Republican organizations have used camera crews to document the distress of the migrants and to use it for electoral propaganda. Ironically, some migrants have used the same technological and social media tools intended to harass them to raise sympathy and money for their own journeys. 

Furthermore, for whatever the reasons, the Panamanian government has been refusing the help of Non-governmental organizations for the migrants including Doctors Without Borders. When considering that many of the migrants include families and children, this heartless act seems all the more inconceivable. It should be noted that in addition to many of the traditional Hispanic and Latino migrants new arrivals are including others from Asia and Africa all seeking a new life. 

A surprising affected bystander to this horror are the local indigenous communities. Al Jazeera notes that the quiet, simple life of their communities has been transformed by the crush of migrants in their midst. Thousands of migrants have swelled the town’s populations with many living trailside in hope of even momentary relief. The communities make a strong profit from the sale of provisions to the migrants even though profiting off of their desperation is a controversial endeavor. The indigenous have begun a steady departure from their traditional cultures and occupations and have followed the money to those pursuits that enrich them. Many locals have built additions onto their homes and have invested in further convivences of modernity. 

However, the migration’s influences have not all together been positive on the indigenous communities. Their local environs, a source of pristine joy for years, are not degraded by pollution, excessive trash, and the impacts on the bodies of diseased migrants impacting their health. Drugs and alcohol abuse have entered their communities and their scourge has led some to crime. If and when the migration ever ends in this area it will be very hard for them to ever resume their traditional culture. 

The Darien Gap’s immigration and migration challenges are numerous and intractable. Some possible suggestions for resolving these issues are allowing a more humanitarian path to immigrants, attempting to dissuade them with the difficulties they will face, create safer migration corridors, a regional and international approach to solving the causes of their migration, and to provide greater governmental and police oversight of the area. 

Immigration is a controversial issue in today’s political environment, but everyone can agree that each and every immigrant is a person who is worthy of love, care, protection, and freedom. Solutions to America’s immigration issues are legion, but everyone can agree that the price of our inaction cannot be subjecting these immigrants to the horrors and abuses of the Darien Gap. Whatever solution America and other international bodies choose, this issue must be remedied quickly and carefully so that we stop treating immigrants as subhuman and acceptable to abuse, and rather to protect them and return to them the humanity and dignity that they deserve. 


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