Central American Migration Facts | Central American Aid | Mercy Corps (2023)

In November 2018, thousands of migrantsarrived at the U.S. border. It was the end of a 3,000-mile journey, but only the start of questions to come: Where would these families end up? Why were so many arriving at once? And how should the United States respond?

Migration is a harrowing decision that uproots entire lives. In the face of limited employment prospects, extortion, sexual violence, domestic abuse, gangs, and even death, it is often the last choice people have.

As the current administration has announced plans tocut aid to Central Americaandtighten restrictions for asylum seekers, questions about the value of U.S. assistance in this region have never been more urgent. Read on to learn more about what’s driving this migration crisis and join us to support the preservation of vital U.S. aid to Central America.

  • Why are people fleeing Central America?
  • Who is fleeing Central America?
  • What is the Northern Triangle?
  • Has illegal immigration to the U.S. increased?
  • Is there a Central American caravan?
  • Where is U.S. funding for Central America going?
  • Does aid to Central America work?
  • How is Mercy Corps helping?
  • How can I help?

Why are people fleeing Central America?

As we found in ournew research, violence and poverty are two leading causes of migration from Central America. People are fleeing their homes out of desperation.

After the region was rocked by civil wars in the 1980s, organized crime flourished and high rates of unemployment spread. For millions of children and families in Central America, daily life isa recurring cycle of poverty, crime, corruption, domestic violence and abuse. Violence and economic instability feed off each other — insecurity stifles economic growth, while poverty and lack of opportunities create rife conditions for the emergence of gangs and other violent groups.

Every ten homicides in the region between 2011 and 2016 led to six children migrating to the U.S.

Additionally,climate changeisdriving many young people to migratefrom rural areas like Guatemala’s highlands. Increasingly extreme and variable climate conditions are reducing agricultural productivity, leading some to sell their land in an effort to finance migration to the U.S. It is estimated that climate change could lead to at least 1.4 million people fleeing their homes from Central America in the next three decades.

In most cases, fleeing home is a last resort, especially for women and children — there’s no other way to guarantee safety. It’s seen as the only option to build a better life.

Who is fleeing Central America?

Central American Migration Facts | Central American Aid | Mercy Corps (2)

The profile of Central American migrants is shifting increasingly to more at-risk and vulnerable groups.Reporters on the groundsay the migrants comprise mainly women and children who are fleeing from violence and extreme poverty.

Since 2011, the amount of unaccompanied children migrating to the U.S. border has risen alarmingly as street gangs target youth for recruitment. In 2014, three out of every four unaccompanied minors apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border were from the Northern Triangle.

According to recent interviews we conducted, a recent trend is that more women are traveling with young children because they believe it increases their chances of being allowed into the U.S. This is reflected innumbers from U.S. Border Patrol, which show a decrease in apprehensions of single adults and a dramatic increase in family units.

What is the Northern Triangle?

(Video) What's Causing the Central American Migration Crisis? | History

The Northern Triangle includes the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The area is one of the most dangerous in the world, due in large part to gang violence. Homicide rates in the Northern Triangle arecomparable with a war zone.

Migration from the Northern Triangle is not new — it began in the 1960s and surged in the 1980s. Between 1980 and 2013, the size of the Central American immigrant population in the U.S. grew from 354,000 to more than 3 million.

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Has illegal immigration to the U.S. increased?

Starting in the mid-1980s, the U.S. apprehended an average of around 1 million people per year at the southern border. By 2018, that number haddropped to 467,000, though it is rising again. One reason for the overall decline is the nationality of those migrating: As immigration from Mexico has decreased, it has steadily increased from the Northern Triangle.

Research shows that surges in border enforcement have hadlittle effect in reducing unauthorized migration to the U.S.Despite a 20-fold increase in funding for border security, the undocumented immigrant population in the U.S. quadrupled between 1986 and 2008. We can’t solve this problem unless we address the root causes that drive people to leave.

Is there a migrant caravan?

The journey from the Northern Triangle to the U.S. is comparable to walking from New York to Los Angeles. Many migrants never make it —as many as 20,000 are kidnapped every year. Traveling in caravans is popular because there is safety in numbers.

In November 2018, more than5,000 migrants reached Tijuanaafter traveling 3,000 miles. Most of them were from Honduras and said they wanted to seek asylum in the U.S. due to persecution. Seeking asylum is protected under U.S. and international law — migrants who request asylum are not considered illegal immigrants, and seeking asylum at a port of entry is not a crime.

One reason these caravans are gathering near the border is because authorities at border crossings have limited the number of people who can request asylum. According to NPR, only 40 to 100 people in Tijuana were allowed to apply each day. Asylum is a long process, and people have no choice while they wait to hear their status.

Choosing asylum is a harrowing decision that uproots people’s entire lives. The only way to curb Central American migration is to address the risks and dangers that force people to choose it. That means investing in good governance, economic prosperity and improved security in Central America.

Central American Migration Facts | Central American Aid | Mercy Corps (4)

Where is U.S. funding for Central America going?

The United States invests hundreds of millions of dollars each year in programs that promote democracy, prosperity and security in the Northern Triangle. According to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition,U.S. assistance to Central America has decreased by nearly 20% since 2016, and assistance to the Northern Triangle is just 0.035% of the current federal budget.

A common myth in the Central American aid debate is that U.S. funding for Central America only goes to governments. On the contrary, funding from the United Statesgoes primarily to organizations like Mercy Corpsworking directly with communities.

The people who will suffer most from proposed aid cuts are some of the people most invested in improving their home communities: families living in vulnerable situations and local leaders working to build sustainable change.

Central American Migration Facts | Central American Aid | Mercy Corps (5)

Does aid to Central America work?

Although limited data makes it difficult to establish a direct link between U.S. foreign assistance and migration, the evidence that we do have suggests that U.S. assistance programs in Central America are indeed improving people’s lives and providing them with a path to economic security and a brighter future.

Our researchhas found that youth who participated in our violence prevention program had less desire to leave Guatemala than those who did not participate. Our youth agriculture program, meanwhile, showed a 30 percent decline in participants thinking often about migrating.

These programs give young people reasons to stay. They create new opportunities and connections. They increase young people’s confidence.

(Video) Biden hopes to send Central America billions in aid to reduce migration

Central American Migration Facts | Central American Aid | Mercy Corps (6)

How is Mercy Corps helping?

Currently, Mercy Corps has two programs in Guatemala that receive U.S. government funding. The first is anurban violence prevention programthat works in the six municipalities with the highest rates of violence in Guatemala.

We’re working with youth and other community leaders to develop violence prevention plans, which include projects like street light installation and improvement of public spaces like parks and community centers. We’re also helping to create student governments and pioneering education initiatives that promote crime and violence prevention in 38 schools, reaching over 17,000 youth, teachers and parents.

Central American Migration Facts | Central American Aid | Mercy Corps (7)

Our other United States government-funded program is arural development program in Guatemala's Western Highlands. We are working with 200 communities to improve economic growth, social development and political participation for women, youth and indigenous communities in some of Guatemala’s most marginalized communities; we’ve helped them develop 66 water and sanitation projects and establish 22 community savings and loans groups.

We also recently completed a two-year agricultural development program in Guatemala’s Western Highlands. Through the course of the program, we worked with 1,000 young people (15-24 years old) to create savings and loans groups where they could finance investments in agricultural projects, such as purchasing new tools or agricultural inputs. Savings at the end of the program topped $110,000, helping these young people improve their economic opportunities and establish careers in agriculture.

How can I help?

Foreign assistance is a bipartisan issue, championed by both Republicans and Democrats who recognize that slashing U.S. aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras would undermine the goal of creating a safer and more prosperous Central America. We need to continue investments to build safer, more prosperous communities in Central America so that each person has the chance to build a better life in their own community. You can help.

Every single contribution helps us provide more lifesaving relief and support to people in need.

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(Video) Irregular Migration to the U.S. from Central America

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Why did people migrate from Central America? ›

Although motives vary by individual, difficult socioeconomic and security conditions—exacerbated by natural disasters and poor governance—appear to be the most important drivers of this mixed flow of economic migrants and asylum-seekers.

How many people migrated for Central America? ›

Central American migrants face different types and degrees of vulnerability. Among the most vulnerable are the more than 300,000 forcibly displaced persons, the 580,000 refugees and asylum seekers, the 90,800 stateless people, and sexual and ethnic-racial minorities.

Where are Central American migrants from? ›

The majority of migrants are from Mexico or the Northern Triangle—El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala—but an increasing number of Venezuelans, Haitians, and Cubans are migrating north in search of safety or better opportunities.

How can we help migrants from Central America? ›

Here are 10 actions you can take to show solidarity with refugees from Central America:
  1. Volunteer. ...
  2. Use the power of your voice and vote. ...
  3. Donate. ...
  4. Be a friend to newcomers and refugees. ...
  5. Keep families together. ...
  6. Take action in local schools. ...
  7. Support children awaiting immigration proceedings. ...
  8. Help end abuse.
Jun 14, 2022

When did Central American migration start? ›

Although smaller numbers of educated, urban Central American immigrants had been arriving in the United States since the 1970s, the first significant waves of wartime refugees came in the mid-1980s, settling in communities across the United States where they could find jobs and faith-based or social support.

What were the three main reasons that immigrants came to America? ›

Fleeing crop failure, land and job shortages, rising taxes, and famine, many came to the U. S. because it was perceived as the land of economic opportunity.

What are the causes of migration? ›

Some people move in search of work or economic opportunities, to join family, or to study. Others move to escape conflict, persecution, terrorism, or human rights violations. Still others move in response to the adverse effects of climate change, natural disasters, or other environmental factors.

What is the Central American migration crisis? ›

What is the Central American migration crisis? Every year, hundreds of thousands of people from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras flee extreme violence and poverty and head north through Mexico to find safety.

What are the reasons for immigration? ›

Immigration is the process of moving to a new country or region with the intention of staying and living there. People may choose to immigrate for a variety of reasons, such as employment opportunities, to escape a violent conflict, environmental factors, educational purposes, or to reunite with family.

What is the best way to support immigrants? ›

Speak out: Talk to elected officials about supporting immigrant rights – call the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your representative or senators. Attend town hall and school board meetings and voice your support for immigrants and refugees.

Why do Mexicans come to the US? ›

Economic inequality, rural poverty, significantly lower wages, and better opportunities have also played a role throughout the 20th century as factors pulling Mexicans to migrate to the US.

How do immigrants help the nation? ›

As a nation of immigrants, we must remember that generations of immigrants have helped lay the railroads and build our cities, pioneer new industries and fuel our Information Age, from Google to the iPhone.

What Central American country has the most refugees? ›

Number of refugees and asylum seekers in Central America and Mexico in 2022, by country
CharacteristicNumber of refugees and asylum seekers
Costa Rica*162,731
4 more rows

Where do most migrants live? ›

Cities and large towns were the most popular destinations for new migrants – 78 per cent of people who arrived after 2011 lived in an urban area in 2021.

What are the occupations of most of Central Americans? ›

Most Central American immigrants were in service (31 percent); natural resources, construction, and maintenance (25 percent); or production, transportation, and material moving (19 percent) occupations.

Who settled in Central America first? ›

One such conquistador was Rodrigo de Bastidas, who established Spain's claim to Central America in 1501. The first stable Spanish settlement in Central America was established in 1510, when Vasco Núñez de Balboa and his crew settled near what is now the Colombia-Panama border.

Where do Central Americans live? ›

Its boundaries are defined as bordering Mexico to the north, Colombia to the south, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Central America usually consists of seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama.

Who were the first to migrate to America? ›

In the 1970s, college students in archaeology such as myself learned that the first human beings to arrive in North America had come over a land bridge from Asia and Siberia approximately 13,000 to 13,500 years ago. These people, the first North Americans, were known collectively as Clovis people.

What are the benefits of immigrants? ›

Immigration fuels the economy. When immigrants enter the labor force, they increase the productive capacity of the economy and raise GDP. Their incomes rise, but so do those of natives.

What are the causes and effects of migration? ›

People move from one place to another for various reasons (war, persecution, seeking better opportunities, unemployment, etc.). This migration of people can result in consequences for both the place they left behind and their new place of residence. These consequences can be economic, social, political and demographic.

What is immigration history? ›

The “Immigration History” website aims to promote understanding of the United States as a “nation of immigrants” by providing an overview of major laws and events, classroom-ready teaching modules on selected topics, and guidance to relevant readings and primary sources.

What are 4 types of migration? ›

internal migration: moving within a state, country, or continent. external migration: moving to a different state, country, or continent. emigration: leaving one country to move to another. immigration: moving into a new country.

What are effects of migration? ›

The loss of a person from rural areas, impact on the level of output and development of rural areas. The influx of workers in urban areas increases competition for the job, houses, school facilities etc. Having large population puts too much pressure on natural resources, amenities and services.

What are the 5 factors of migration? ›

The important factors which motivate people to move can be classified into five categories. They are economic factors, demographic factors, socio-cultural factors, political factors and miscellaneous factors.

What is the central migration route? ›

Migrants and asylum seekers use the Central Mediterranean route to enter the EU on an irregular basis. They embark on long, dangerous journeys from North Africa and Türkiye, crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Italy, and to a much lesser extent also Malta.

What are 3 benefits of immigration? ›

Immigrants boost economic activity, promote innovation, and improve the productivity of native-born workers. Increases in immigration raise both tax revenues and fiscal costs.

Why is immigration a social issue? ›

Ultimately, illegal immigration generates insecurity about America's borders, carries economic and fiscal costs, and risks the creation of an isolated underclass, and generates disturbing social and cultural tensions.

What do refugees need the most? ›

Without basic hygiene supplies to help them stay clean, refugees are at heightened risk of disease, malnutrition, and losing the confidence needed to face an uncertain future. Hygiene items like soap, toothpaste and razors are essential to helping refugees stay healthy and maintain their dignity.

How to deal with immigration problems? ›

Three Ways to Help Solve the Immigration Crisis
  1. Boost Legal Migration. ...
  2. Reduce Disease Fears. ...
  3. Recognize Migrants' Vulnerability.
Jun 18, 2019

How can I be a happy immigrant? ›

10 ways to be a happy immigrant
  1. 1 Do not look back. ...
  2. 2 Accept the consequences of the decision made. ...
  3. 3 Embrace and enjoy (yes you can) that what is different! ...
  4. 4 Do not convert. ...
  5. 5 Do not compare your life to that of anybody else's. ...
  6. 6 Be open to learning something new, be teachable. ...
  7. 7 Get involved in your community.
Mar 29, 2017

What jobs did Mexican immigrants have? ›

Mexican immigrants and their descendants could be found in most of the industries of the Southwest, including ranching and mining. America's growing rail network was particularly important for Mexican immigrants. The railroad industry had long turned to immigrants from Mexico as a source of low-cost labor.

Where do most Mexican immigrants live? ›

Within the United States, almost 60 percent of Mexican immigrants live in California or Texas. Most Mexican immigrants are not U.S. citizens, and those who gained permanent resident status in FY 2021 mainly did so via family sponsorship.

Where do most Mexican live in USA? ›

The United States is home to the second-largest Mexican community in the world (24% of the entire Mexican-origin population of the world), behind only Mexico. Most Mexican Americans reside in the Southwest, with over 60% of Mexican Americans living in the states of California and Texas.

Can an illegal immigrant become legal after 10 years? ›

Introduction. There are no provisions in US immigration law that allow an illegal immigrant to change status to a legal immigrant or legal resident (Green Card) based on time spent in the United States.

Do immigrants pay taxes? ›

It's a surprising fact that's often overlooked in the immigration debate. Undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars in federal taxes annually, between tax returns filed and taxes deducted from paychecks, experts estimate.

Why is immigration so difficult? ›

Today, most lawful means of entering the country take years because of overwhelmed immigration agencies, rising levels of global migration and a limit on the number of certain visas, all of which have culminated in a massive backlog of people trying to get to the U.S.

Why do children migrate from Central America? ›

Poverty, violence, crime and lack of education and opportunity are all forces that drive children and their families to flee. Learn more about how UNICEF helps refugee and migrant children globally.

Why did many Central Americans migrate to the US in the 1980s? ›

Displacement and economic instability caused by regional civil wars, in which the U.S. government had involvement, led many Central Americans to migrate in the 1980s. The wars ended, but economic instability remained—as did migration.

What is the reason people from Central America fled and migrated to Belize? ›

Most of the migrants who have settled in Belize are from the neighbouring republics with increasing numbers from Haiti, China and Africa. Migrants from the Central American Republics are, in the main, fleeing gang-related violence and seeking employment opportunities.

What is the migration crisis in Central America? ›

What is the Central American migration crisis? Every year, hundreds of thousands of people from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras flee extreme violence and poverty and head north through Mexico to find safety.

What is the problem with migrant children? ›

Recent investigations by The New York Times and Reuters have found migrant children as young as 12 working in chicken plants and slaughterhouses, making car parts, packaging well-known snacks, operating hazardous machinery and constructing roofs, all in violation of child labor laws.

What are the struggles of migration? ›

When they reach their destination they often face difficulties in accessing health care, housing, education or employment. They may become easy targets for abuse, extortion and exploitation due to a lack of a protective family network, a lack of information or missing documents.

What happened in Central America in the 1980s? ›

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration used Central America as a testing ground to rehabilitate US imperial "hard power" after defeat in Vietnam. The results were predictable: death squads, massacres, and murderous repression of left-wing movements.

What were the 3 main reasons why people immigrated to the United States in the 1800s? ›

In the 1800s, rising political instability, economic distress, and religious persecution plagued Europe, fueling the largest mass human migration in the history of the world.

What are 2 effects of emigration on Belize? ›

This population, through its remittances, has contributed to the development of both their families and the national well-being. However, this strong emigration also costs Belize in terms of reduced capabilities, limited workforce, social disintegration and family relations, among others.

How did slaves get to Belize? ›

Most slaves, even if they were brought through West Indian markets, were born in Africa, probably from around the Bight of Biafra, the Congo, and Angola—the principal sources of British slaves in the late 18th century.

How did the slaves came to Belize? ›

The British settlers, who called themselves Baymen, began importing African slaves in the early 18th century to cut logwood and then mahogany. Although the conditions and organization of labour in timber extraction were different from those on plantations, the system was still cruel and oppressive.

What are Central Americans fleeing from? ›

Fast facts: Central America migration

Poverty, violence, and food insecurity are among the top reasons families migrate north.

How did the migrant crisis start? ›

When did the Syrian refugee crisis begin? The Syrian refugee crisis began in March 2011 as a result of a violent government crackdown on public demonstrations in support of teenagers who were arrested for anti-government graffiti in the southern town of Daraa.

What is the central idea of migration? ›

Central Idea: Humans migrate in response to challenges, risks and opportunities. An inquiry into: An inquiry into the ways in which we discover and express ideas...the ways in which we reflect on, extend and enjoy our creativity...


1. Renewing the U.S. Commitment to Addressing the Root Causes of Migration from Central America
(House Foreign Affairs Committee Democrats)
2. A crisis on both sides of the U.S. Mexico | Nightline
(ABC News)
3. Humanitarian aid organization Mercy Corps on Google
4. Ambassador James D. Nealon- Central American Migration and U.S. Policy in the Northern Triangle
5. Central America Refugee Crisis
6. ONLINE EVENT: Japan's Evolving Engagement with Central America and the Caribbean—What Lies Ahead?
(Inter-American Dialogue)
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