Exploring the Impact of Economic Crises on Illegal Immigration in Central America and Mexico

Pulse Lab New York

Project Description

To support the international community in combating the criminal exploitation of migrants, UNODC conducted research aimed at monitoring smuggling in different regions of the world. This study, conducted as part of Global Pulse’s “Rapid Impact and Vulnerability Assessment Fund” was carried out in Central America and Mexico, and assesses the risks, social costs and hardships of migrants seeking a better future. Understanding the level of perceived risks associated with these forms of migration is essential for tailoring preventative measures and ensuring a safe migratory path for all migrants as well as allowing governments to monitor routes and respond quickly to new threats.

The research sampled 71 Central American migrants transiting through Mexico to the United States, 47 qualified informants (law enforcement officers and other experts) and 17 migrant smugglers. The interviews were documented in a voice archive. The findings demonstrated that the global economic crisis seemed to have had no significant impact on the overall number of illegal migrants. What did change during the period under investigation was the level of vulnerability of illegal migrants—not only did the cost of migration increase, but the passage itself became more risky. There is evidence that episodes of kidnapping, extortion and killing of migrants have now turned into patterns. The researchers were, however, hesitant to attribute this to the global economic crisis given increased involvement of drug cartels in human smuggling. Interviews with migrants also revealed that motivations for illegal migration were more strongly related to conditions in the country of origin than those in the destination country.

The research shows that Honduran migrants are most vulnerable during the smuggling process, as they pay the highest costs and are more likely to be victimized. This again points to the importance of the economic circumstances of the source county. Honduras is the poorest country among the top origins of irregular migrants to the USA, with a GDP per capita of less than 3000 USD. In addition, Honduras was heavily impacted during the years of the crisis. Conversely, the relative limited risks faced by Guatemalan migrants may perhaps be explained by the stronger economic profile of the country in the period studied.

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