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Recently deported migrants lean on a fence that separates the border between the United States and Mexico, in Tijuana. Credit: BBC World Service.
Recently deported migrants lean on a fence that separates the border between the United States and Mexico, in Tijuana. Credit: BBC World Service.

Political and gang violence, as well as lack of work opportunities and an increase in natural disasters, are some of the leading reasons why citizens from Mexico and Central American countries attempt the treacherous journey to the United States, according to a new research brief coauthored by Mary Lehman Held, assistant professor in UT’s College of Social Work.

The report, edited by the Center on Immigration and Child Welfare—an initiative led by New Mexico State University’s School of Social Work—summarizes data from 30 different pieces published between 2001 and 2018, including news articles, academic journals, publications from nonprofit organizations, and United Nations reports.

An estimated three million Latino immigrants living in the United States come from what Held and her colleagues call the Northern Triangle of Central America, an area that includes El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

“What we found is that most of the people that come here do so attracted by the promise of safety and a better life for them and their children,” said Held.

Safety is a concern indeed. A study highlighted in the brief found that 83 percent of the people coming from the Northern Triangle fled their homes due to violence.

“In many cases, it’s a matter of life or death,” said Held.

The brief also mentions displacements from natural disasters as one of the leading reasons for migration. Between 2005 and 2014, Central American countries lost nearly $5.4 billion to natural disasters.

To Held, briefs like this are essential to put in context the reasons why some of these migrants make the trip, as well as their contribution to the American society and economy.

“These migrants come here looking for an opportunity to thrive, and their talents boost our diversity and our economy,” she said.

Stephen Goss, the chief actuary for the Social Security Administration, told the New York Times in 2017 that undocumented workers contribute nearly $15 billion a year to Social Security through payroll taxes.

“Immigrants are part of our identity, and our country benefits from understanding their circumstances,” said Held.

The research brief, Why Do People Migrate?: The Context of Migration from Central America and Mexico to the United States, is available for download.

CONTACT:

Andrea Schneibel (andrea.schneibel@utk.edu, 865-974-3993)