From the Field

Central American migration: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

Poverty, violence, lack of economic opportunities, and food insecurity are driving more people from Central America to the border.

Central American migration to the United States has greatly increased over the past several years. People, including more families and unaccompanied children, are on the move to find opportunities to thrive outside their home countries.

Poverty, violence, lack of economic opportunities for sustainable livelihoods, and food insecurity are among the top reasons migrants cite for leaving Central America. Increasingly, Central American migrants have chosen to travel in larger groups for safety. These migrant caravans include hundreds or thousands of people.

FAQs: What you need to know about Central America migration

Find answers to frequently asked questions about Central America migration, and learn how you can help.

Fast facts: Central America migration

  • Poverty, violence, and food insecurity are among the top reasons families migrate north.
  • Most people at the southern U.S. border migrate from El SalvadorGuatemala, and Honduras.
  • At the Mexico-U.S. border, World Vision provides food and basic household and school supplies to vulnerable families.
  • In Central America, we help people remain hopeful at home by building resilience in partnership with churches, governments, local businesses, and schools to provide a safer, more nurturing environment for them.

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Where do most Central American immigrants come from?

Most Central American migrants are coming from three of the region’s seven countries — El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — referred to as the Northern Triangle. It’s called the Northern Triangle because the countries are clustered in a triangle at the northern tip of Central America. Guatemala, the northernmost of the three, borders Mexico.

All three of the Northern Triangle countries rank among the poorest in the Western Hemisphere and are plagued by chronic violence.

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Why are Central American migrants coming to the U.S.?

Many factors cause people to uproot their families. The most common reasons among Central American migrants are food insecurity, political insecurity, violence, lack of economic opportunity, or some combination of these. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic and impact of 2020 hurricanes Eta and Iota, two of the most powerful storms to hit Central America in decades, have made living conditions worse.

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How many people are migrating from Central America to the U.S.?

There is no clear count of how many people are migrating to the U.S. from Central America. But the Migration Policy Institute says of the 3.4 million Central Americans living in the U.S., about 85% of them are from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. At any given time, there could be thousands of people journeying north from their home countries. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection*:

  • Over 450,000 people arrived at the U.S. border in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic slowed migration across the world.
  • That number nearly quadrupled in 2021 to at least 1.7 million migrants who were returned to their home country or detained in the U.S., at least temporarily, at the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • More than 189,000 people reached the U.S. border in June 2021 — the highest number ever seen for one month in more than 20 years. Numbers kept climbing in subsequent months that year.

*Numbers are based on the fiscal year.

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What is a migrant caravan?

A migrant caravan is a large group of people traveling together with a goal of finding safety, political stability, or better economic opportunity — in this case, people are heading north from Central America to the United States. Most of the migrants come from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, and many say they are fleeing violence, poverty, and persecution at home.

Here’s a Google Maps perspective showing the likely path many of the migrants took:

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What is World Vision doing to help at the Mexico-U.S. border?

Since late 2018, when one of the large migrant caravans arrived in Tijuana, Mexico, World Vision staff have been working with local faith-based organizations to help migrant families. We’re working with partners along the border in Arizona, California, and Texas, where we aim to reach vulnerable families who need essential supplies like food, water, hygiene items, and basic household and school supplies.

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What is World Vision doing in migrants’ home countries?

We’ve been working for decades throughout Latin America, including in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, where child sponsorship is helping families thrive at home.

World Vision has designed the Hope at Home: Building Resilience in Central America framework, which aims to address the root causes of forced migration by building resilience at the individual, family, community, and societal levels. We do this by helping communities through programs on violence prevention; social inclusion; sustainable livelihoods; food security; water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); quality of education; health; and so much more.

One program raising hope among vulnerable youth in Central America is Youth Ready. Through this approach, we partner with local churches to support young people to discover their potential, develop specific career and life skills, establish support networks, build character and confidence, and plan for their future. This work is made possible largely through child sponsorship.

Learn more about Hope at Home: Building Resilience in Central America.

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How can I help?

Here are three ways you can help Central American families living in precarious situations:

  • Pray: Ask God to bring peace to communities, strength and integrity to leaders, and economic stability to families.
  • Support U.S. foreign assistance by contacting your elected officials. It only takes a minute.
  • Sponsor a child in Central America: Sponsoring a child is a personal way to show God’s love to a child in need. It also gives a family more reasons to remain in their community.

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