Written by: Johnathan King
Disclaimer: This blog post solely reflects the opinion of the author and should not be taken to represent the general views of IPPR’s management team or those of fellow authors.
The current crisis in the “Northern Triangle” region of Central America has resulted in millions of refugees leaving their countries of origin. The Northern Triangle is made up of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. All three nations face conflicts inflicted by gang violence, drug trafficking, corruption, and insecurity. This latter has developed a system where gangs dictate their will on society. Throughout the mid 2000’s, the United States granted temporary status to thousands of refugees from these troubled nations due to the rising violence, influx of criminal incidents, and rise of death per capita. The US government granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for asylum seekers due to natural disasters or domestic conflicts. According to the Migration Policy Institute, there are 3.4 million Central American migrants who have migrated to the United States. From 2011 to 2016, the number of refugees fleeing from the “Northern Triangle” region to the U.S. increased by 2,249 percent. The majority are women and children. Additionally, the refugees have fled using migratory patterns through the southern border of Mexico, which are operated by narco-traffickers. The routes to the United States are very dangerous and it is an expensive journey for a single person, let alone for a whole family to take. Yet, refugees have continuously borne the costs and risks to flee for the promise of a better life since 2010.
Since the peak of refugee migration in 2014, Mexico has seen an influx of migrants attempting to cross their northern border into the United States. Policies under President Obama’s administration aimed to provide temporary legal status for refugees seeking asylum. However, since President Trump took office, the number of refugees attempting to cross the border into the US has dramatically decreased. According to International Crisis Group, refugees were estimated to be around 500,000 – 600,000 fleeing from the Northern Triangle to the U.S. every year. In 2016, after the implementation of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. government instructed to curb the flow of non-legal refugees and deport them. Many of President Obama’s policies expired at the beginning of 2018 and some other temporary status programs are ready to expire in March 2018.
The flow of refugees has created an economic, social, and political effect that directly impacts millions of people and the governments involved. Refugees who have successfully fled El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala send portions of their incomes back to family members and friends who are struggling in their countries of origin. The Northern Triangle nations have large percentages of their countries Global Domestic Income produced directly by remittances sent from former national residents. The resulting dependency on refugee remittances leads to a situation where the government does not have the means to make a significant contribution. Additionally, corruption levels within the political arenas in the “Northern Triangle” are detrimental to overall national growth.
Currently, the “Northern Triangle” countries suffer from severe violence, extortion, and insecurity. Refugees have migrated outwardly from their countries because they seek an alternative lifestyle. They are pushed to make the decision to leave these countries for a myriad of reasons, but mainly because by fleeing they have the ability to create a better life for themselves. The corruption, gang violence, drug trade, and inability to improve social mobility have produced massive migration. According to the Council on Foreign Relations:
Nearly 10 percent of the Northern Triangle countries’ thirty million residents have left, mostly for the United States. In 2013, as many as 2.7 million people born in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras were living in the United States, up from an estimated 1.5 million people in 2000. Nearly one hundred thousand unaccompanied minors arrived to the United States from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras between October 2013 and July 2015, drawing attention to the region’s broader emigration trend. At the United States’ urging, Mexico stepped up enforcement along its southern border, apprehending 70 percent more Central Americans in 2015 than it did in the year before (Council on Foreign Relations, 2016).
The criminal elements embedded in the Northern Triangle region have developed into a crisis where refugees have left seeking opportunity elsewhere. Due to the high levels of violence, individual households send members to gain incomes in areas where more opportunities are available. Because crime and corruption is so seismic, refugees have become a mode of production to help support those still living in the countries of origin. The economic struggles in the region have led to a system of remittances being sent home from refugees and migrants back to families and loved ones. Remittances sent back to Honduras from the U.S. account for 18.0 percent of the country’s GDP. In U.S. dollars, remittances are estimated to equate to $3,863,740.00 (IMF, 2017). The number of net migrants for Honduras is -8 and for Guatemala, -6, which both are significantly less than El Salvador. By analysing the data, we can infer that there is more of a concentration of former refugees from El Salvador because more refugees have migrated outward of the country. Compared to Guatemala and Honduras, El Salvador has higher net indicators of nationals who have fled mainly north towards the United States. Even though the number of migrants fleeing from Honduras is lower, both El Salvador and Honduras share high levels of remittances. Honduras has a larger population but does not receive as high a number of remittances as El Salvador does. Remittances, in effect, are the economic instruments that evade the harms of insecurity and crime, and act as financial support systems linking families and loved ones.
The Northern Triangle states have created a vacuum of refugees due to severe violence and gang warfare. Policies have temporarily given refuge to migrants fleeing for their lives, but those policies are coming to an end. With the rise of President Trump’s rhetoric and attack on criminal groups whose origins are from the region, the future conditions for refugees are unknown. Economic remittances have created a state of dependency from refugees to those back home, acting as a monetary lifeline for many individual households. What will happen without that sector of revenue? The refugee crisis coupled with political instability is a product of insecurity where mass populations are going to be returned to the region with no positive improvable prospects for the region. The refugee crisis in the Northern Triangle has direct implications for the Americas in general and future policies regarding refugee status will be very important to monitor going forward.
Council on Foreign Relations. (2016). Central America’s Violent Northern Triangle. [online] Available at: https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/central-americas-violent-northern-triangle [Accessed 22 Dec. 2017].
Kunz, R. (2013). Political economy of global remittances. London: Routledge.
Lesser,G. and Batalova, J. (2017). Central American Immigrants in the United States [online] migrationpolicy.org. Available at: https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/central-american-immigrants-united-states [Accessed 20 Feb. 2018].
International Crisis Group. (2017). Undocumented Migration from the Northern Triangle of Central America [online] Available at https://www.crisisgroup.org/latin-america-caribbean/central-america/el-salvador/undocumented-migration-northern-triangle-central-america[Accessed 16 Feb. 2018].
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2016). Migration Policy Debates. [online] Available at: http://www.oecd.org/els/mig/migration-policy-debates-11.pdf [Accessed 16 Dec. 2017].
World Bank. (2016). Data. [online] Available at: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/BX.TRF.PWKR.DT.GD.ZS?locations=SV [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].