Central American Migration Crisis

Central America

Since the 1960s, Central America has experienced  continuous waves of emigration as a result of multiple civil  wars, extreme violence at the hands of organized crime  groups, and environmental disasters, as well as an  atmosphere of general civil, political, and economic  instability created by both the governments of the region  and foreign intervention. A considerable part of the U.S  migration comes from The Northern Triangle of Central  America (Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador) where citizens  are left with no other choice but to leave their home countries. Because of increasingly hostile attitudes toward  Central Americans in Mexico and the United States, migrants  and asylum seekers are often forced to live in inhumane  conditions only to be deported back to their home countries.  

Many cannot travel elsewhere, as the journey southward to  countries like Brazil, Chile, and Argentina is often long and  expensive. In addition, these countries, as well as closer  ones like Colombia and Peru, are already struggling to  accommodate refugees from Venezuela. Though the number  of attempted border crossings has significantly decreased  under the Covid-19 pandemic due to border shutdowns  throughout the region, numbers have begun to rise again. Indeed, a historical record has been reached when 1.7  million Migrants were recorded trying to illegally cross the  U.S border in 2021, to escape the poverty, violence and  corruption in their home countries. However, hopes for  better living conditions in the Northern triangle of Central  America lays in U.S VP Billion private investment plan to  stem migration by addressing its root causes.

Key Facts


Yearly Emigrants (2019)


Poverty Rate (Guatemala)

37.6 (per 100,000)

Homicide Rate (Honduras)

Where: El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, the United States

Population: 6.5 million (El Salvador), 17.4 million (Guatemala), 9.3 million (Honduras), 6.2 million (Nicaragua) (July 2021 est.)

Net Migration Rate (per 1,000 people): -5.57 (El Salvador), -1.69 (Guatemala), -1.35 (Honduras), -2.27 (Nicaragua) (2021 est.)

Poverty Rate: 29.2% (El Salvador – 2017), 59.3% (Guatemala – 2014), 48.3% (Honduras – 2018), 24.9% (Nicaragua – 2016)

Homicide Rate (per 100,000 people): 19.7 (El Salvador), 15.3 (Guatemala), 37.6 (Honduras), 4.4 (Nicaragua) (2020)

Northern Triangle in Central  America: The number of migrants has more than tripled from 1990. Nearly 684,000 citizens were  encountered at the U.S.  Southwest border, including 309,000 Hondurans (2021), 279,000 Guatemalans (2021), and 96,000  Salvadorans (2021). 397,000 were expelled under Title 42 of the U.S. Code (2021)

The Key Actors

The Situation


Humanitarian Crisis

Adviser’s suggestions:

  • The Biden Administration must  revoke Title 42 as it constitutes a  violation to the United States’  international legal obligations under the Refugee Convention. By sending  asylum seekers back to life threatening dangers,  they fear persecution without an individualized hearing. Public health officials have  shown that the policy has little to  none risk mitigation benefits on the  spread of Covid-19. As Dr. Ron Waldman, president of Doctors of the  World, said, the Biden administration should not be embracing a xenophobic policy that is based on  political expediency, instead of science. Additionally, we encourage the U.S.  government to listen to Public health  officials by aligning with the CDC’s  declaration in which immigration can  continue safely and COVID-19 risk can be contained by testing migrants upon arrival.
  • Furthermore, we urge the Biden  administration and the media to shift the public’s opinion regarding the  migration crisis. Citizens must understand the dangers that asylum  seekers are facing. The dehumanised narrative on migrants and the Trump induced idea that “they are coming to take our jobs” needs to be repealed.

Similar Crises:

European Migrant Crisis



Although the number of attempted border crossings has significantly decreased under the Covid-19 pandemic, a record 1.7 million Migrants have been recorded trying to illegally cross the U.S border in 2021. Hope lied in Biden’s promise to reform the way asylum seekers are treated and restore the humanitarian protections devasted by former president Trump. However, the Biden administration has shown failure to protect migrants crossing the border through the use of Trump-era Title 42. Title 42 gives the U.S the right to expel migrants and remove their right to seek asylum under dubious and unfounded COVID-19 contamination grounds. As of August 2022, president Joe Biden has failed to meet its refugee objectives as the U.S is on pace to resettle less than 20 percent of the Biden administration’s goal. However, a need for a transition to green energy due to climate change and the disruption in China’s supply chain could tackle the economic factors that drive migrations. Nearly $1bn of historic textile and apparel investment is anticipated from the U.S to Central America this year alone. Further, green energy projects based in Central America have raised the interest of the U.S Government, such as the La Vegona II in Honduras. These investments and partnerships have the capacity to raise employment, allowing for better living conditions for individuals In Central American countries.


A period of extreme turmoil and civil war, setting the events in motion that would make Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras modern emigration hubs. In Nicaragua, the 1979 Sandinista Revolution would prompt a US-backed counterrevolutionary civil war that would last until 1990. The Salvadoran Civil War would last from 1979 to 1992, resulting in almost 10,000 forced disappearances and nearly 100,000 dead. Next door, the Guatemalan Civil War was fought from 1962 to 1996 and is characterized by the genocide of hundreds of thousands of indigenous Guatemalans. In Honduras, fears of civil war spreading from surrounding countries would lead the government to kill and disappear leftists throughout the country. This violence, as well as the region’s relative economic underdevelopment, would create the opportunity for the growth of organized crime, further worsening the conditions forcing people to migrate elsewhere.

Hurricane Mitch makes landfall in Honduras, killing approximately 7,000 people and causing over $3.5 billion in property damage, representing a 70% loss in Honduran GDP. Though it never hits Nicaragua directly, it causes massive landslides and flooding, killing almost 4,000 people and causing approximately $1 billion in property damage. The hurricane prompts the US government to grant Hondurans and Nicaraguans Temporary Protected Status.

The Clinton administration grants Hondurans and Nicaraguans TPS based in the devastation of Hurricane Mitch. To be eligible, they must have been living in the US since December of 1998.

Nearly a thousand people are killed in a 7.6 earthquake, with several hundred thousand houses damaged and destroyed. Huge aftershock quakes continue throughout the rest of January and February, furthering the initial damage.

Prompted by the destruction caused by a series of earthquakes, the administration of George W. Bush grants Salvadorans TPS.

Senators Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) first introduce the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would grant temporary residency and work permits to undocumented migrants who were brought to the US as children, facilitating a path to permanent residency. The bill does not pass, but has since been reintroduced several times.

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya is deposed and sent into exile in a joint effort by the military and Supreme Court. The interim government installs a climate of extreme violence and impunity, detaining members of the Zelaya government, journalists, and foreign diplomats. It drastically increases the amount of people fleeing Honduras.

Hurricane Ida makes landfall in Nicaragua, causing several million dollars in damages and leaving over 40,000 people homeless. Landslides occur throughout the region, leaving over 10,000 people in need of aid and causing over $200 million in property damage in El Salvador alone.

President Barack Obama announces the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy which allows undocumented migrants who were brought to the United States as children to remain and work for two years without deportation, though it does not provide a path to citizenship.

The Food and Agricultural Organization, a subsidiary of the United Nations, declares the current drought in Central America’s Dry Corridor one of the worst droughts of the past decade, with over 3 million people in need of aid. Repeated droughts have drastically decreased food accessibility in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, and have exacerbated the need to migrate.

The Trump administrations announces that it plans to phase out DACA, prompting lawsuits from several states under the Administrative Procedure Act.

In their Fiscal Year 2017 Sector Profile, US Border Patrol provides data showing that the number of Guatemalan migrants at the US-Mexico border has surpassed the number of Salvadorans for the first time.

The 2018 Global Hunger Index names Guatemala and Honduras as the countries with the second and third worsts hunger levels in Central America and the Caribbean.

Partially organized by Honduran Congressman Bartolo Fuentes and inspired by the immigrant rights organization Pueblos Sin Fronteras, approximately 160 migrants from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador begin their journey northward from the city of San Pedro Sula. American Vice President Mike Pence urges these governments to encourage their citizens to return.

Once in Guatemala, the group begins to shrink. Many, including Bartolo Fuentes, are captured and deported back to their respective countries. President Trump threatens to close the US-Mexico border and send in the military, additionally threatening to cut off foreign aid to the Northern Triangle should they allow their citizens to continue migrating. The same day, Mexico sends Federal Police to their border with Guatemala.

In response to the progress of the migrant caravan – now totaling around 5,000 people – into Mexico, President Donald Trump orders the State Department to slash millions of dollars in aid to Central America and one again threatens to close the US-Mexico border.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announces the “Estás en tu casa” (“You Are Home”) program, which would allow migrants granted refugee status temporary work permits, IDs, housing, and education as long as they remain in the southern states of Oaxaca or Chiapas.

Published by Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft and the Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict, the 2018 World Risk Report names Guatemala and El Salvador within the top 15 countries most at risk to natural disasters at #7 and #14 respectively.

Three days before President-Elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador is set to take office, American Border Patrol agents temporarily close the border and fire tear gas into Mexico, aimed at crowds of migrants as they march peacefully. This is a violation of international law.

American Border Patrol agents fire into a crowd of people, including teenagers and young children, standing on the Mexican side of the US-Mexico border. Dozens, including several of these teenagers, are detained. It reignites debate over American violations of international law.

The Department of Homeland Security announces the Migrant Protection Protocols, known colloquially as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. It allows American border officials to relegate non-Mexican asylum seekers to locations within Mexico while their cases are judged in court. This is in direct conflict with international law, as it is generally understood that crossing a border for the purpose of seeking asylum is not illegal.

American President Donald Trump tells reporters that, should Mexico continue to fail to control the amount of asylum seekers reaching the US-Mexico border, the border will be closed. He announces that he has instructed the State Department to cut off all foreign aid to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras as a punishment for Central American migrant caravans.

Photos surface of the bodies of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his two-year-old daughter Angie Valeria, natives of El Salvador, after they drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande. The photos quickly spread through social media, leading many to scrutinize Customs and Border Patrol’s policy of “metering,” wherein asylum seekers are forced onto a waitlist instead of being allowed to apply for asylum once they reach the border. CBP recorded nearly 300 deaths in the fiscal year 2018, nearly 100 of which occurred in the Rio Grande Valley.

DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan tells reporters that the United States has signed an asylum agreement with the Guatemalan Interior Ministry that would require asylum seekers who pass through Guatemala to first apply for asylum there before they reach the US. Should they fail to do so, the agreement dictates that they will be returned to Guatemala regardless of nationality.

The American Supreme Court rules that a Trump-era rule barring migrants who have passed through other countries before coming to the US from applying for asylum can be temporarily enforced by the administration. The rule effectively invalidates asylum seekers from anywhere other than Mexico.

In a similar vein to the agreement with Guatemala, DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan announces an asylum agreement with El Salvador that would require seekers to apply for asylum there before applying in the US.

In a joint declaration, Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, Salvadoran Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill, and US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli announce the extension of the validity of work permits for Salvadorans with Temporary Protected Status until 4 January 2021. After this date, Salvadorans with TPS will have one year to return to El Salvador.

Like Salvadorans, Honduran and Nicaraguan immigrants living in the US with TPS will now be allowed to remain until 4 January 2021.

In line with the US-Guatemala “Safe Third Country” Agreement, Customs and Border Patrol begins chartering flights of Honduran and Salvadoran asylum seekers from the US-Mexico border to Guatemala. Many are allegedly coerced by border agents without knowledge of the plane’s destination.

At the orders of the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Center for Disease Control is directed to issue an order to effectively close US-Mexico and US-Canada borders for 30 days. It is justified as a public health measure, arguing that migrants could be “vectors” for the coronavirus.

The US Department of Health and Human Services extends its initial 30-day border shutdown for another 30 days and rules that the order can be renewed indefinitely.

Similar to those with El Salvador and Guatemala, the Trump administration publishes an agreement originally signed in September of 2019 that would force asylum seekers passing through Honduras to apply there before applying in the US.

US District Judge Timothy J. Kelly rules that the Trump administration failed to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act and demonstrate public interest with its policy barring asylum seekers who have passed through other countries before coming to the US.

The Guatemalan government announces that, since April, out of the total 4,392 deportees, the US has deported 127 who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and have since recovered.

A caravan of around 7000 migrants from Central America was stopped by security forces in Chiquimula, southeastern Guatemala. Those in the caravan were escaping violence and poverty, and some were displaced by recent hurricanes. They were headed for the United States border. Tear gas and truncheons were used on people who tried to break through the blockade.

On his first day in office, US President Biden issued a number of executive orders aimed at addressing the Central American migrant crisis. He suspended the ‘Remain in Mexico’ program which had asylum-seekers waiting beyond the border for their cases to be processed. He also introduced a plan to eventually allow all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US to achieve citizenship.

Almost 100,000 migrants were detained at the US border in February, an increase of nearly 22,000 from January. This number represents the highest number of detainees for the month of February since 2006. It is also the highest monthly total since mid-2019.

Biden has re-implemented the “catch and release  method” which refers to a practice of releasing a migrant  to the community while he or she awaits hearings in immigration court, as an alternative to holding them detention.

Former President Trump had deemed immigrants  a “risk to the U.S. labor market” and blocked their entry  to the United States via  Proclamation 10014 and Proclamation 10052. The freeze affected H1B visas for  tech workers and H2B visas for low-skill jobs, as well as  H4, J and L visas.

Three trucks were stopped on a highway south of Tuxtla Gutierrez in Chiapas state, Mexico, near the border with Guatemala. Authorities discovered 329 migrants, including 114 unaccompanied minors. The number of migrants stopped is interpreted as a sign that US President Biden’s calls for Central Americans to stop making the journey north have been ignored.

The United States’ House of Representatives voted to approve two bills on immigration. One bill is aimed at creating a pathway to US citizenship for ‘dreamers’: young undocumented immigrants. The other would allow agricultural workers and their families to attain citizenship through work programs.

US Vice President Kamala Harris indicated that the US would provide $310m in aid to Central America after virtually meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei. This  includes $125m to address food shortages and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, $104m for asylum seekers and refugees’ safety, and $26m for other areas such as health and education. Guatemala and the US have also agreed to form a co-operative border protection agency.

The 125,000-spot refugee cap aimed at the fiscal year of  2022, which starts in October, will mark a 733% increase  from the historic low 15,000-person ceiling former  President Donald Trump set.

Agents caught migrants from more than 160 countries in  Asia, Africa and Latin America, with Mexico accounting  for the largest group of people with 1.1 million or 64 percent of  all migrants.

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants who do not want to  return to dangerous conditions in their home countries  have received extensions of Temporary Protected Status,  or TPS, a federal program that gives time-limited  permission for some immigrants from certain countries to  work and live in the United States.

Report by the Migration Policy Institute, the World Food  Programme and the Civic Data Design Lab at the  Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows that Migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador  traveling outside legal channels with smugglers pay  about $1.7 billion annually. Migrants who travel outside  legal channels from those countries in caravans or alone  spend about $230 million every year and those migrating  via legal pathways spend around $240 million.

U.S VP announces $1.9 Billion private investment plan  to stem migration from El Salvador, Honduras and  Guatemala as part of the Biden administration’s strategy  to reduce migration, more than doubling previously  announced commitments. Harris’ plan is to aim at the  root of the migration problem by creating more  opportunities in those three countries. For instance,  telecommunications companies such as Millicom said it  will spend $700 million to maintain and expand mobile  and broadband networks in the three countries.

Among the dead, 27 are believed to be of Mexican origin  based on documents they were carrying, according to Rubén Minutti, Mexico consul general in San  Antonio. Two Mexican suspects of involvement in the  deadly smuggling incident were charged in U.S. federal  court for possession of firearms while residing in the  United States illegally, according to court documents and  U.S. authorities.

The number of Venezuelans crossing the Darien Gap into  the North American continent has strongly increased in  the past few months as countries like Mexico imposed  visa restrictions making it more difficult for Venezuelans  to travel by plane to Central America. Migrants are  crossing a dangerous jungle area on the Colombia– Panama border, known as the Darien Gap, which  according to Human Rights Watch, exposes them to egregious abuses such as robbery and  violence.

President Joe Biden and Mexican President Andrés  Manuel López Obrador met at the White House, dicussing the record migration in the hemisphere and high inflation  that has affected both countries. The Biden  administration has wrestled with a growing number of migrant arrivals at the US-Mexico border following  deteriorating conditions in Latin America exacerbated by  the coronavirus pandemic.

The Del Rio border sector saw the largest share, with  12,000 migrants being arrested by border agents within the six-day period ending on July 9. It comes amid a statewide crackdown on undocumented immigrants being led by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.  Last week the Republican official signed an executive  order directing the Texas National Guard and Texas  Department of Public Safety to arrest migrants and  return them to the border.

U.S. officials announced on Monday a change to the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) process for Afghan. Now applicants only need to fill out one single form so that  applications can go through a single government agency,  senior officials told reporters.

The Supreme Court won’t allow the Biden administration to implement a immigration policy. The latter aimed to prioritize the detention of recent border crossers and immigrants who pose a threat to national security and public safety.

Bowser declared that over 4,000 individuals arriving on nearly 200 buses have come to Washington D.C. since April. As the immigration crisis along the southern border grew, Governor Greg Abbott vowed to transport migrants to Washington, DC. The decision was taken to  protest the Biden administration’s immigration policies.

The Biden administration declared that it had authorized US Customs and Border Protection to close gaps in a  border wall in Arizona, near Yuma and close to the  Morelos Dam. The project to fill border gaps is aimed at protecting migrants from drowning and sustaining injuries while trying to cross the Colorado River into the United States.

The migrants were sent by the governors of Texas and Arizona. Many have ended up in homeless shelters and on the  streets.

Costa Rica’s migration head Marlen Luna has declared that The plan aims to formally include the migrants in  the jobs market and healthcare system. Nicaraguan  migrants make up some 90% of applications for refugee  status in Costa Rica and represent 11.5% of Costa Rica’s 5.2 million inhabitants.

A total of 688 migrants, mostly Central Americans, were  found in two different verification actions in the  Mexican state of Puebla, according to the National  Migration Institute (INM). The groups of migrants, who  were traveling in overcrowded conditions, were found  thanks to an anonymous call, while four men, allegedly  human traffickers, were arrested.

The United States Border Patrol says 187 Cuban  migrants in total were stopped just in Florida at Key  West’s famed Southernmost point, 90 miles away from Cuba.

New poll from Ipsos, a Global Market Research and  Public Opinion shows an overall decline in support for  immigration as new images emerge of  hundreds to thousands of migrants crossing illegally  over the southern border. The poll also shows that  more than one-third claim they are being  “systematically replaced by immigrants”.

The temperature at the waiting station in Reynosa,  located at the border between Mexico and the USA, can  often reach 42C. Adding to that, families, pregnant woman and children are lacking water. This could be  particularly dangerous for 800 children in the shelter,  many of them new-borns and toddlers who are more  susceptible to water-borne diseases that range from  skin rashes to chronic diarrhoea.

The letter applauds the commitment made by President  Biden and his administration for setting a goal to  increase U.S. refugee admissions to 125,000 for the  fiscal year 2022. They note that in 2021 only 11,411  refugees resettled in the nation, making it the lowest in  any year on record. Most importantly, letter and its  signatories point out more than halfway through 2022,  the U.S. is on pace to resettle less than 20 percent of the  Biden administration’s goal.

The need for a shift to green energy has led the U.S into  looking at their neighbour; Central America, an area  blessed with many sources of renewable energy.  

There are a number of new green energy emerging in Central America, such as La Vegona II in Honduras. This innovative development has a 1,200- megawatt potential to become the most reliable and  cost-efficient energy generation and storage system in  the region. Having much interest from the U.S  government, the project could help create employment  which could tackle the reasons for migrations.

U.S government backs up a Memorandum of  Understanding (MOU) with Honduran-based Central American Technological University (UNITEC), an  initiative which will launch a series of educational  workforce development programs, ranging from training  and certificate programs to undergraduate and graduate  degrees, in textile-related areas of study.

A report shows that, due to the economic crisis of 2014, an influx of Venezuelans leaving their homeland has occurred. Most have gone to nearby nations in Latin America and the Caribbean and more than 2.4 million are in Colombia.

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