Addressing the “Root Causes” of Irregular Migration from Central America: An Evidence Agenda for USAID

Elisa Cascardi
Jeremy Weinstein
December 10, 2021

In recent decades, the number of people migrating irregularly from the three Northern Triangle countries of Central America—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—has been increasing, putting pressure on the Biden-Harris administration to address the root causes of irregular migration and deliver “results.” Evidence suggests that these countries are undergoing a demographic and economic transition, hence emigration pressure will likely remain for the coming decades. Yet there is much an entity like USAID, the United States’ largest development agency, can do to moderate the short-run drivers of irregular migration such as violence, climate shocks, lack of economic opportunity, and inaccessibility of legal migration pathways. In this policy paper, we outline the available evidence within these areas that is directly pertinent to irregular migration and identify key evidence gaps to be filled by future research and evaluation. We conclude by outlining five recommendations for how USAID can ensure its work is evidence-based and contributes to new learning, supporting policymakers in this field for decades to come.

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