Central American Migration: Current Changes and Development Implications

This report from the Migration, Remittances and Development Program analyzes recent trends in Central American migration, starting with a brief historical context and moving on to current developments. It considers geographical divisions, reasons for migrating, and growth in the overall migrant population. Finally, it considers implications of these current trends for Central American countries.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Post-2009 drivers for migration. Central American migration, particularly from the Northern Triangle countries, underwent changes in the post-2009 period, in large part due to increased insecurity coming from transnational organized crime. The slow economic recovery, the effect of the military coup in Honduras, as well as the expansion of youth gang violence and drug-trafficking networks in El Salvador and Guatemala had broad and devastating effects on emigration.

Declining Trends in Central America Immigration to the US. Emigration from the region has not directly translated in a dramatic increase of immigration to the United States. Rather we find that from 2009-2017, migration growth to the United States has seen mixed patterns. For the Northern Triangle, the growth in the number of migrants for this period was 1.9%. Two main factors are at hand. First, immigration enforcement may have had an effect in terms of more apprehensions and difficulties entering the US, especially with Mexican authorities detaining prospective migrants. Second, there has been a steady pattern of deportations.

Creating Economic Development and Growth to Deal with Migration and Change in the Region. The current migration crisis in Central America is tied to missing economic reforms and strategies disconnected from the chronic problems in the region. Reducing high emigration rates resulting from poor economic development can be addressed in one of several ways: as a development problem, as a border control challenge, or as an opportunity to leverage migrant economic contributions. Any policy intervention should triangulate the economic impact of migration with the drivers that caused it and with the fundamental development problems each migrant sending country faces.



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