The Road Less Traveled: Bolstering the Absorptive Capacity of Southern Central American States to Facilitate the Southern Flow of Northern Triangle Immigrants


Project Details


The project aims to expand on existing work on the niches of Northern Triangle immigrants living in Mexico to Costa Rica and Panama. It will do so through a data-driven analysis of a) the relationship between levels of violence, employment opportunities, and the number of Honduran, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan immigrants in Mexico, and b) the extent to which Northern Triangle migrants choose to settle in alternative locations, specifically Panama and Costa Rica. Findings in support of the hypothesis will result in a series of recommendation regarding what the U.S. Government (USG) could be doing to aid Panama and Costa Rica’s absorption of Northern Triangle migrants. If the findings suggest that Northern Triangle migrants choose not to settle in alternative locations, this project will further analyze the reasons that factor into that decision. Furthermore, it will consider what specific policies/investments the USG could undertake to encourage migration to those nations.

The primary goal of the project will be to identify at what rate Northern Triangle migrants choose to emigrate south as opposed to north. The countries that make up the Northern Triangle have systemic issues that affect the livelihoods of the citizens of those countries. Costa Rica and Panama have more developed economies and more stability than the Northern Triangle countries, which lack the stable agricultural and manufacturing industries and substantial international investment that are present in Costa Rica and Panama. This project will use demographic data collected by the target countries, field interviews, a review of the extant literature, and econometric modeling to determine if Costa Rica and Panama (or elsewhere) could serve as alternative destinations for Northern Triangle refugees and migrants. A secondary goal of the research will be to determine if economic investment in Costa Rica, and/or Panama as alternative destinations could affect the flow of migrants/refugees from Northern Triangle countries as the present situation is not sustainable and the United States cannot absorb the additional labor force. The results will intend to improve the decision-making capacity of the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Government, and U.S. business interests to work with the governments and industries of Costa Rica and Panama to absorb a proportion of Northern Triangle refugees/migrants.


This project utilizes two main methodologies. First, as part of desk study that aims to understand migration dynamics of Northern Triangle migrants as well as Panama and Costa Rica’s capabilities and ongoing efforts, it will collect empirical evidence about the scope and density of Northern Triangle migrants in these countries. Researchers will exclusively use publically available immigration, employment, and public opinion statistics and data from Panama, Costa Rica, as well as Northern Triangle countries. The data then will be modeled using a nested model of analysis, beginning with descriptive statistics and building up to comparative and bivariate analyses. This portion of the project will allow us to better understand the scale of Northern Triangle out-migration throughout the region as well as the economic and social push/pull factors. Second, the project will utilize qualitative data collection by way of key informants that are professionals working in governmental and non-governmental migration organizations as well as focus groups with migrant populations in parts of Costa Rica and Panama with a high migrant density. We plan for the key informant interviews of Panamanian and Costa Rican officials, as well as local representatives from IOM, UNHCR and UNICEF. If we are unable to meet with IOM, UNHCR and/or UNICEF representatives’ in-country, we will attempt to schedule meetings with representatives at the New York or D.C. offices.


Project Period:

Selected Publications