Hondurans are looking for jobs, not escaping violence?

According to a recent study by the Jesuit Reflection, Research and Communication Team (ERIC-SJ) in Honduras, most Hondurans who left their country in recent years did so because of the lack of economic opportunity rather than because of violence.

nearly half of Hondurans surveyed (44.7 percent) said they currently want to or have thought about moving to another country for any number of reasons. But nearly 78 percent of respondents who saw a family member emigrate away from the country within the last four years said the search for better jobs, opportunities and incomes was the driving factor behind the decision. Only about 17 percent of respondents said their relatives had left primarily to escape violence at home.


But poverty and violence are hardly mutually exclusive. The idea that people leaving Honduras and other Central American countries are more concerned with poverty than they are their personal well-being doesn’t mean they’re automatically safe in their home countries. It’s also worth noting that the Honduran survey found that nearly 17 percent of individuals whose family members had migrated away in the last four years said they did so fearing violence. Just last year, that number was only 11 percent. The percentage of those who fled for economic reasons dropped from 82.5 percent to 77.6 percent over the same period. So more people are leaving because of violence and fewer because of socioeconomic opportunity over time.

I’ve said that the causes of migration from Central America are “simple, but numerous: poverty, violence, government and police corruption at home, as well as the draw of safety, greater economic opportunity, and family reunification in the US” (Should the US deport unaccompanied minors?).

I think that’s still the case. Violence is less a cause of people leaving Guatemala, more so in El Salvador, with Honduras falling somewhere in between (perhaps not as low as the survey, but low enough).

Some Guatemalans on Twitter have been vehemently arguing against the fleeing violence narrative. There are some parts of Guatemala City and the country where gang violence is intense, but it is not as expansive as it is in Honduras and El Salvador. The case for refugee status from El Salvador, on the other hand, is strong.

I think that this also helps to explain why the Obama administration has not gone all in on the all migrants are refugees from violence narrative that immigration activists have been pushing. They’ve been criticized for not declaring that all migrants are or are not refugees.

I still lean towards a more permissive refugee policy towards people fleeing Northern Triangle violence . However, “We need to think long-term about policies that will make it safer and cheaper for Central Americans to move between their countries and the US, not more difficult.”