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Central America's Immigrant and Refugee Crisis: Limiting Unauthorized Migration through the Alliance for Prosperity and Reintegration Efforts Randy Capps, Ph.D., Migration Policy Institute


Border Patrol apprehensions of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) during fiscal year (FY) 2016 (60,000) approached their level during the peak year FY 2014 (69,000), while apprehensions of family units—parents and children traveling together—were higher in FY 2016 (78,000) than in FY 2014 (68,000). UAC and family unit apprehensions fell precipitously from January 2017 through May 2017 but rebounded by one third and one half, respectively, in June 2017. These trends suggest that migration of UACs and families—primarily from the “Northern Triangle” Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras—may be an enduring phenomenon and will likely continue to challenge DHS and other federal agencies. Because they are composed so heavily of women and children, many with potentially legitimate asylum claims, the new Central American flows are presenting new challenges for DHS and its component agencies CBP and ICE in terms of the core immigration functions of apprehensions, migrant processing, long-term detention, providing alternatives to detention, and safe and orderly repatriation. Understanding emigration pressures in the Northern Triangle, adopting long-term strategies to reduce unauthorized migration, and developing reintegration strategies to ensure safe repatriation and deter return migration are thus of critical policy significance to DHS.

MPI’s is exploring two broad strategies to reduce unauthorized migration: (1) initial implementation of the Alliance for Prosperity (AFP) by the Northern Triangle countries to combat crime, violence and poverty and thereby address central push factors and (2) reintegration programs for children and families in Mexico and the Northern Triangle that offer promise to ensure safe and orderly repatriation and deter future migration. Neither of these strategies has been reviewed in academic or policy research.

MPI will leverage our ongoing activities in Central America and Mexico, substantial research in the field, and broad networks of governmental and nongovernmental experts across the region and in Washington to produce two high-quality research briefs on (1) the promise of AFP and other initiatives in the Northern Triangle to reduce migration, and (2) the challenges faced in reintegrating repatriated migrants along with promising practices to overcome these challenges and thereby reduce migration pressures. MPI will present findings from these briefs to an expert roundtable composed of DHS officials, U.S. experts on Central American migration, and other U.S. and regional stakeholders. We will also publish the research briefs, along with commentaries or op-ed pieces that summarize results in a user-friendly format for a broad public audience, on MPI’s high-volume website and through media outlets.

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