Confronting the Challenges of Migration & Development

Flicker / Brian Auer / The Reunion Fence

Central America is experiencing one of the most severe crises in its history. The number of deaths in the region, for example, has been higher in the past 10 years than during the Civil Wars of the 1980s. The region’s economic development remains stagnant, with persistently high levels of poverty and inequality. In Honduras, for example, where the GDP per capita is $4,392, nearly 60% of the population lives on less than $4 a day. Meanwhile, public policies in the region are inadequate at best, or unresponsive at worst. It is in this bleak economic and social context that Central American emigration is occurring.

Today, nearly one in ten Central Americans have migrated, creating important transnational linkages as they maintain relationships, friendships, businesses, and investments across borders. Migrant transnationalism, in addition to being an expression of culture, identity and love, is an important economic phenomenon. Remittances, for example, represent over 10% of the GDP for many countries in the region and amounted to $15 billion in 2014. When diaspora-driven investment, philanthropy, and trade are added to this, the economic impacts are tremendous.

While migration is not, nor should it be, a solution to development issues in the region, it can represent a “silver lining” in the current crisis. By leveraging existing transnational activities, countries in the region can build both human and economic capital. An asset-building perspective should take center stage to create opportunities, strengthen education, mobilize savings, and further develop the labor force.

This report begins by addressing some of the drivers of Central American migration today, including economic stagnation (Chapter 1) and violence (Chapter 2). In light of these powerful push factors, many migrants find it necessary to leave their countries by any means necessary. The report also analyzes undocumented border crossings and trends in deportations (Chapter 3).

The second half of this report considers the intersection between migration and development. There are many opportunities linked to migration, though unfortunately policymakers in the region have been slow to act on them (Chapter 4). This unmet potential is the topic of the remaining chapters of the report. Remittances can be linked to financial inclusion, for example, thereby mobilizing savings and promoting economic development for the region (Chapter 5). There are also opportunities related to diaspora-driven investment and trade (Chapter 6). Building on these opportunities, the report concludes with a policy proposal that promotes development in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The approach leverages migrant investments, trade, donations and remittances to build both human and economic capital in the region (Chapter 7), such that migration can be a choice, rather than a necessity, for future generations of Central Americans.

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