An Unprecedented Migration Crisis: Characterizing and Analyzing its Depth

Photo of cover page for Cover Photo: : Government of Panama / Servicio Nacional de Migración de Panamá / X (Twitter)

In November, 2023, the Inter-American Dialogue released the report "An Unprecedented Migration Crisis: Characterizing and Analyzing its Depth." In the report, Manuel Orozco, director of the Migration, Remittances, and Development program, and Patrick Springer, program assistant, detail the most recent increase in regional migration.

The recent migration wave to the US border has been referred to as a crisis. Media references point to the drama of people arriving and passing through the Darien, Central America, and Mexico to characterize the problem. Others have pointed out the increasing arrivals into US cities in numbers that are hard to manage by local communities. After analyzing several data points in comparison with historical trends, the authors conclude that the current wave does, indeed, constitute a crisis.

Some indicators to offer a dimension of this as a crisis are as follows:

  • Between January 2021 and September 2023, 7.5 million irregular migrants have arrived at the US border with Mexico
  • That number represents 7,800 daily encounters in 2023 for only nine border patrol sectors across the boundary with Mexico and to which they perform the following:
    • Three million are apprehended; 579 thousand expelled and one million regarded inadmissible
  • These arrivals represent almost one percent of the US population in 2022 and 2023 respectively
    • This is the highest number in history, and double than any other reference year since 1990
  • There is also an increase of migrants to Latin American and Caribbean countries to more than ten million people in 2023, largely led by Venezuelans
    • This situation spreads the challenge of mobility beyond a few countries but over ten
  • The number of countries serving as in-transit or migrant host countries expands, from Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Chile, or Mexico to lesser-known countries like Nicaragua allowing direct flights to Managua from Port-au-Prince
  • The number of nationalities seeking asylum in the US shifts from Mexico and the Northern Triangle to a wider range from Nicaragua, Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela, to Russia, Burma, and Ukraine:
    • State fragility defines the nature of migration: over 30 percent of all migrant encounters come from these seven nationalities
  • Arrivals are no longer a matter of single, male migration.
    • 1 in 20 is an unaccompanied minor, half of which comes from Guatemala
  • 30 percent are family units arriving at the border, a number that has no precedent before 2000
  • The intention to migrate from Central Americans is of one in four households, but about ten percent of all households ends up with a member migrating every year since 2018
    • There is no other precedent in history with as much as a large outflow, not even during the civil wars of the 1980s

The common denominator is political stability, which manifests differently in every country but mostly on the economic downturn of a non-democratic regime (like Venezuela or Haiti) or the massive expulsion of people as a matter of state policy, as is in Cuba and Nicaragua.

Pull factors may have played a role too – particularly the rapid drop in unemployment during the pandemic which coincided with the dramatic increase.

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