Skip to Main Content

Central American Refugee Crisis

Resources on the ongoing Central American refugee crisis.

What is the Central American Refugee/Migrant Crisis?

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras flee extreme violence and poverty and head north through Mexico to find safety. 

The countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA) have long been burdened by deep social inequality, political instability, and conflict - and in some cases have been further destabilized by US interventions in the region over the past 40 years. Now, these countries are also contending with the rapid expansion of transnational organized crime, which has exploded over the past decade. Across this region, drug and human trafficking by criminal groups known as maras, coupled with widespread corruption and weak law enforcement, have resulted in an environment where civilians face the ever-present threat of violence. From: Doctors Without Borders

Displacement and economic instability caused by regional civil wars, in which the U.S. government had involvement, led many Central Americans to migrate in the 1980s. The wars ended, but economic instability remained - as did migration. The Central American immigrant population in the United States more than tripled between 1980 and 1990.

Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and two earthquakes in 2001 were among the factors further driving migration from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Similar factors have remained at work in recent years. In November 2020, Hurricanes Eta and Iota devasted the region, affecting as many as 11 million people throughout Central America. Drought also has plagued parts of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in what is known as the “Dry Corridor.” Further, government corruption, gang activity, and high homicide rates continue to affect parts of the region, driving emigration.

The total Central American-born population in the United States has grown more than tenfold since 1980, and by 24 percent since 2010. The 3.8 million Central American immigrants present in 2019 accounted for 8 percent of the U.S. foreign-born population of 44.9 million. From: Migration Policy Institute


Photo credit: United Nations. "Displaced persons in Central America: Guatemalan children living in refugee camps, in the State of Campeche, wait to get their food ration." 01/01/1985. Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. UN Photo/Pat Goudvis.