Latin America Advisor

A Daily Publication of The Dialogue

Violence Driving Migration

Nathan Gibbs / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Violence is "the most powerful, immediate driver" of the increase of unaccompanied minors migrating to the United States from Central America, according to a report released Monday by the Inter-American Dialogue. Tens of thousands of children, mainly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, have been apprehended at the U.S. border over the past year, prompting debate over the causes and appropriate responses in the United States and Central America.

Using data from 900 municipalities in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, Manuel Orozco and Julia Yansura of the Inter-American Dialogue examined the differences between municipalities with emigration and those with low levels or no emigration in relation to indicators of violence and human development. Results showed that the number of homicides occurring in a municipality was more strongly correlated with emigration than was the human development index of a municipality. This relationship was the strongest in Honduras.

A nationwide survey conducted last month El Salvador found that the community perception is that violence is driving the trend. Forty-six percent of respondents identified violence as the primary issue facing the country, while 41 percent said economic problems, either the cost of living or unemployment, are the main problem facing them or family members.

A survey of Central American migrants in the Washington area also found that Salvadorans and Hondurans consider violence to be the leading factor driving migration from their home countries, while Guatemalans cited both violence and economics. Violence was more often identified as a primary cause by those who knew a recent migrant. Violence may be the immediate trigger for migration, but it is "linked in numerous and important ways to economic and human development," the report says. As such, one "cannot address the crisis of unaccompanied minors without addressing the challenges of development," Orozco said Monday in releasing the report, which recommends implementing policies to improve education, leveraging migrant engagement and remittances to promote development and rethinking development models in Central America.