A survey of the Guatemalan immigrant community refutes a commonly held belief that crime and gang violence are the primary drivers of migration from the Central American country to the U.S.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is the U.N.’s leading agency on immigration issues, conducted a study of Guatemalan immigrants in the U.S. to learn more about why they decided to leave their home country.
The group found that 91 percent of Guatemalan immigrants came to the U.S. for economic reasons. By contrast, less than one percent fled Guatemala due to safety concerns including extortion, gang problems and the overall level of violent crime.
The IOM survey, conducted in conjunction with the Guatemalan government, undermines the narrative that Guatemalan migrants have no choice but to come to the U.S. because of rampant violence at home — a conclusion many pro-immigration groups advance. While Guatemala — along with neighboring Honduras and El Salvador — does have a particularly high murder rate compared to most other Latin American countries, economic opportunity appears to be the primary motivating factor in immigration to the U.S.
The results of the IOM survey, which was published in Spanish, were summarized Monday in an English translation by Kausha Luna, a research associate at the Center For Immigration Studies (CIS). As Luna notes, the vast majority of Guatemalan immigrants came to improve their economic situation: 57 percent to find better employment, 33 percent to boost their income, 1.2 percent to buy a home, and 0.1 percent to start a business. Another 3.7 percent came for family reunification purposes.
“As the [IOM] report shows, migration is multi-causal. However, the immigration narrative in the United States has crafted a monocausal ‘migration crisis’ — that cause being violence,” Luna wrote in a blog post for CIS. “As a result, causes such as economic migration and family reunification are glaringly absent from the conversation. But as the Guatemalan case demonstrates, economic reasons and family reunification can be, and often are, predominant push and pull factors.”
The Guatemalan government has acknowledged that, crime and violence problems notwithstanding, a lack of economic opportunity is the main reason so many of its citizens have left the country. At least 1.3 million people of Guatemalan origin reside in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center.
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