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As Central American Migration Has Risen, Mexico’s New Enforcement Role Is Reshaping Regional Dynamics & U.S. Apprehensions Trends
Press Release
Thursday, September 3, 2015

As Central American Migration Has Risen, Mexico’s New Enforcement Role Is Reshaping Regional Dynamics & U.S. Apprehensions Trends

WASHINGTON – The United States and Mexico have apprehended nearly 1 million Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran migrants since 2010, deporting more than 800,000 of them, including more than 40,000 children. While the United States led in pace and number of apprehensions of Central Americans in 2010-2014, Mexico has since pulled ahead, apprehending one-third more adults and children than the United States so far this year.

Amid increasingly muscular enforcement by Mexico, U.S. apprehensions of Central Americans for fiscal 2015 to date have fallen by more than half compared to the prior year. Many of those who previously would have made it to the U.S. border and been apprehended by the Border Patrol now are being intercepted by Mexican authorities.

The findings are contained in a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report, Migrants Deported from the United States and Mexico to the Northern Triangle: A Statistical and Socioeconomic Profile, which suggests that the increased Mexican enforcement capacity is reshaping regional dynamics and perhaps ushering in changes to long-lasting trends in regional apprehensions.

“The main force at play in the region today with respect to immigration enforcement is the ‘squeezing of the balloon’,” said Doris Meissner, director of MPI’s U.S. immigration policy program and co-director of MPI’s Regional Migration Study Group, which produced the report. “To succeed, responses to regional migration dynamics must move beyond shifting the flows and instead begin deflating the pressures that generate them.”

To achieve a more comprehensive policy, the report suggests that the United States and Mexico, working with Central America, should design migration policies with workable enforcement and humanitarian protection as well as development policies that address poor standards of living, improve citizen security in the Northern Triangle and facilitate the re-integration of deportees.

While the U.S. public and policymakers focused intensely in 2014 on the dramatic increase in unaccompanied minor flows, the MPI researchers find that Mexico has deported nearly 80 percent of the Central American minors apprehended by both countries since 2010. Mexico’s deportations as a share of apprehensions rate also greatly exceeds that of the United States: for every 100 minors apprehended in Mexico in 2014, 77 were deported, compared to three out of 100 for those apprehended in the United States.

“The lower level of U.S. deportations of unaccompanied minors reflects long immigration court backlogs and limited adjudications capacity while the high ratio of deportations to apprehensions in Mexico indicates limited humanitarian screening and due-process protections,” said Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. immigration policy program. “Both the Mexican and U.S. enforcement systems raise concerns about the protection of vulnerable children.”

The report also offers a profile of deportees to the Northern Triangle, finding that the majority are young males with low educational attainment levels, most with experience in low-skilled jobs but with nearly 40 percent reporting they were unemployed in the 30 days before setting off on their journey.

And contrary to the stereotype that many young Central American migrants are gang members, the MPI researchers report that the majority of deportees do not have a criminal background. Ninety-five percent of child deportees and 61 percent of adult deportees had never been convicted of a crime. For those with a criminal record, 63 percent had been convicted of immigration or traffic offenses or other non-violent crimes. Twenty-nine percent of those with criminal convictions had committed violent offenses and 9 percent drug offenses.

Among the report’s other top findings:

  • More than 60 percent of deportees to Central America are younger than 29, more than 80 percent are male, and more than 53 percent have an elementary-level education or less. Only 2 percent have university-level education.
  • Among youth younger than 18 who were deported by the United States or Mexico, the majority are boys between ages 12 and 17. However, the surge in overall child inflows since 2013 has also been marked by a sharp increase in the number and proportion of migrants coming from the most vulnerable groups: children under the age of 12 and girls. This increase may be indicative of deteriorating conditions in the region.
  • Even though the number of child apprehensions tripled in 2010-2014, minors made up a relatively small share of deportations to the Northern Triangle—less than 18,000, or around 8 percent of all deportations in 2014.
  • Apprehensions of Central Americans by the United States and Mexico more than tripled between 2010 and 2014, rising from approximately 100,000 to more than 340,000. Deportations also increased during the period, although not as rapidly, from 142,000 in 2010 to more than 213,000 in 2014.

“The findings in this report raise important policy questions: How can the United States and Mexico design regionwide policies that effectively balance enforcement and protection? What can the countries of origin do to stem the flow of migrants? How should the United States and Mexico support the Northern Triangle in the reintegration of deportees to avert the revolving door of migration, deportation, and remigration?” write report authors Rodrigo Dominguez Villegas and Victoria Rietig.

The report can be read at: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/migrants-deported-united-states-and-mexico-northern-triangle-statistical-and-socioeconomic.

And MPI’s online journal, the Migration Information Source, has just published a demographic profile of Central American immigrants in the United States, which is available here.


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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more, visit www.migrationpolicy.org. For more on the Regional Migration Study Group, visit www.migrationpolicy.org/regionalstudygroup.