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Researchers: Mexico Should Support Central American Migrants

CANAMID presented policy recommendations for the Mexican government in light of the grim humanitarian situation of Central American migrants in Mexico

Central American migrants wait for a freight train to reach and cross the U.S. border, in Arriaga in the state of Chiapas, January 10, 2012, photo: Reuters/ Jorge Luis Plata
By Simon Schatzberg Whatsapp Twitter Facebook Share
2 years ago

At a press conference Monday, the Central American-North American Migration Dialogue (CANAMID) presented a series of policy recommendations for the Mexican government towards Central American migrants.

Founded by Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of International Migration and the Mexican Center for Social Anthropology Research (CIESAS), CANAMID brings together researchers from several universities across Central and North America to study migration and help create policies favorable towards Central American migrants.

“We want to generate up-to-date, useful information about Central American migration to support the design of good public policy towards Central American migrants in Mexico, whether they are passing through Mexico on their way to the United States or if they plan to stay,” said Agustín Escobar, general director of CIESAS. “We want our research and our conclusions to be heard by governments in North and Central America.”

Most of CANAMID’s work focuses on migrants from Central America’s Northern Triangle, which is made up of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Most Central American migration to the U.S. and Mexico comes from the Northern Triangle countries.

Migration from the Northern Triangle first came into the spotlight in the summer of 2014, when more than 20,000 unaccompanied minors from those countries were detained at the United States’ southwest border. In response, the U.S. pushed Mexico to crack down on migrants with the Southern Border Plan, which led to a huge increase in deportations of Central American migrants from Mexico. Although the surge, that reached its height in July 2014 soon slowed down, the state of crisis continues, and the situation has been further deteriorating in fiscal year 2016. According to data from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), there has been a 122 percent increase in detentions of family units between October and April of fiscal year 2016 compared with the same period in fiscal year 2015, and a 74 percent increase in detentions of unaccompanied minors.

At the press conference, the researchers presented a series of nine policy briefs exploring different issues related to Central American migration in Mexico and offering policy recommendations. The policy recommendations include giving Central American migrants access to free public health care while in Mexico and formalizing the labor situations of the 43,000 Guatemalans who perform agricultural labor in Mexico.


During the ’70s and ’80s, violent civil wars displaced many people from the Northern Triangle and forced them to emigrate. Mexico gave asylum to Central American refugees, and created the Mexican Commission for Aid to Refugees (COMAR) to support them. The Mexican government worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to build emergency camps to house Central American refugees.

“Mexico played a fundamental role in receiving migrants from Central America during the civil wars of the 1980s, especially from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua,” said Dr. Carla Pederzini Villarreal, professor of economics at the Universidad Iberoamericana. “It’s important to remember this history, as Mexico is once again receiving large amounts of Central American migrants.”

The researchers agree that Mexico is failing Central American migrants and that it needs to offer them more support whether Mexico or the U.S. is their final destination.

“Mexico once stood up to support Central American refugees in the 1980s,” said Escobar. “Now, once again violence in the Northern Triangle is forcing many people to leave their home countries, and Mexico needs to play the role it played in the 1980s again.”


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