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Unauthorized immigrants coming into the US via illegal border crossings in the Southwest are, according to Homeland Security data (Customs and Border Protection), coming primarily from the Northern Triangle of Central America. This represents a change in historical migration patterns over the last thirty years. In the 1990s and early 2000s, most of the irregular migration into the US on the Southwest border was from Mexico. However with the ramp up of trade and investment resulting from the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the improved economic conditions led to a reversal of migration patterns with more Mexicans now coming back to Mexico than are migrating to the US.



















See for more information.


The rise in Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) detainees from Central America is increasing the number of children entering public schools. According to US Census data, residents who originate from the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras) are found in ten US metropolitan areas. These are the same areas to which UACs are primarily being released by Customs and Border Protection according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Department of Homeland Security. A case study focusing on Fairfax County in Northern Virginia looked at impacts from increased Hispanic migration including UACs. According to the Fairfax County Schools Budget Committee, county revenue was insufficient to cover school budgets in 2015 and 2016 due to changing demographics. Hispanic student population has doubled since 2000 and now represents the second largest ethnic group (43,211 Hispanics vs 75,962 Whites).









A child in Honduras has approximately $645 per year invested in their public school education (1.7 million students in public schools with a national education budget of $1.1 billion). Once that same child reaches the US, the cost of his or her education goes up exponentially. We need to be strategic and make the investments needed to prevent out migration from the Northern Triangle. See -- follow the link and scroll down to the presentation.







The US was able to help Mexico reduce irregular migration to the US to a net zero level (as many Mexicans are returning home as are migrating to the US each year). We did this by establishing NAFTA and providing the mechanisms and frameworks that promoted significant increases in Foreign Direct Investment. This approach can work for the Northern Triangle as well.

The following actions are needed to address this situation:

  • Analyze the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) to find ways to strengthen trade and investment in the Northern Triangle. Renegotiate the agreement to promote greater trade with US and others. Create credit mechanisms to leverage investment by offsetting risks of private sector to make Foreign Direct Investments in the Northern Triangle.

  • Develop a US Foreign Assistance Strategy to Address the Primary Drivers of Emigration: (1) Design a strategy aimed at addressing social and economic constraints in Central America; and (2) Create a dialogue with the key donors, implementing agencies and national governments. Conduct outreach to Federal and Local Policy Makers.

  • Define “value proposition” of an effective Central America social and economic development strategy to national, state and local policy makers. Explain the impact of failed social and economic systems in Central America in potential increase in undocumented population in their metropolitan areas. Discuss costs of doing nothing versus cost of promoting greater investment in solving problems in immigrant country of origin.

  • Design and Implement Socio-Economic Development Programs with a Focus on Private – Public Partnerships: (1) Develop specific programs from a coalition of partners that build on evidence-based approaches to address drivers of out migration; (2) Promote effective guest worker program with significant incentives for workers to return to country of origin at conclusion of work period; and (3) Develop effective private – public partnerships with companies that have a stake in access Central American markets and obtaining labor for US agriculture and industries.

  • Help Local Schools Cope with Demographic Change: (1) High density Central American origin communities tend to be destination sites for Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC); (2) Assessing potential local impact is critical in planning to meet the needs of these children as they integrate into the community; (3) Specific school districts may need special assistance in mitigating the impact of an increase in Hispanic students (especially UAC); and (4) Congress and the local school district should determine how to assess potential impact and provide the resources necessary to accommodate this situation.



In terms of addressing problems in Central America, as stronger E-Verification system is put in place, it will be harder for undocumented Central Americans to work in the US. There should be a Guest Worker Program established that will let them work for a period of time (3 to 5 years) during which they would be required to contribute to a Housing Fund (instead of paying Social Security tax they would and their employer would pay into a housing fund). A Guest Worker would have the potential to accumulate $20,000 to $25,000 during their work period in the US but the funds would only be made available upon the return of the guest worker to their home country. During the Guest Worker's same period in the US, he would be allowed to contribute to a Remittance Bond fund which would provide a $1 match for every $3 the worker contributes to the fund. This fund would be placed in an "enterprise fund" which would only be made available to the worker upon return to his country of origin. The goal of the program would be to have shared value -- labor needed in the US, a home for the worker when he completes his service, and a seed capital fund for the worker to start his own business or agriculture enterprise in his home country.  

These two programs would provide a great incentive for the Guest Worker to return to his country of origin. A strong E-Verification system would discourage trying to continue working in the US. US foreign assistance in Central America could be geared to support region wide housing initiatives funded primarily from the Guest Worker Housing Program and also support economic development activities in support of the Enterprise Fund each returning Guest Worker would have 

Migration - Mexico vs Central America.JP
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UACs in DC Area.JPG
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