Northern Triangle Crisis

The Northern Triangle refugees crisis centers around the three countries in Central America: Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The refugees of these nations have been placed in circumstances of violence and poverty, caused by gender-based gang violence, economic disparity, and political instability. These factors are deeply rooted in US imperialism and involvement in Central America during the Cold War. During this period, the United States supported a coup in Guatemala, right wing rebels in Honduras, and violent government forces in El Salvador. As a result of this instability, asylum seekers have rapidly escalated at an unprecedented rate, resulting in a 370% increase in asylum requests in the US. Adjacent countries, such as Mexico and Nicaragua, have also been experiencing an increased number of asylum requests. This number has increased by 1000% since 2008. On average, 265,000 people have left the region every year in the past 5 years. Harsh treatment and rejection from neighboring nations such as the US have amplified dangers during their journey. Hundreds of thousands wait to be accepted as asylum seekers while the vulnerable are targeted by criminal groups for kidnapping and extortion.

Politics & History

El Salvador: To escape the violent landscape of the Salvadoran Civil War, a conflict caused between the military-led junta government and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, many Salvadorians escaped for the US, especially to Los Angeles during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Due to the marginalized and difficult living conditions in the US, self-defense gangs were created, but they were deported back to El Salvador. This ultimately created two gang rivalry groups: MS-13 and M-18. The absence of government programs and amplified economic disparities during the aftermath of the civil war manifested into a continued violence in the community, this time between both these factions in a poor-on-poor conflict.

Guatemala: Leftist political candidates were rising into power from democratic elections until a military coup backed by the United States took over in 1954. This military government started exploiting land and resources from indigeneous people like Mayans and peasants. As a result in 1960, there was a 36-year civil war between the right-wing militaristic regime and the leftist rebel groups. Additionally, a series of natural disasters, social violence, and disrupted commercial and trade patterns in the highlands still has heavy consequences in the present day.

Honduras: The inception of the crisis in Honduras can be traced back to around 25 years ago, when the United States began mass deportations of Central Americans that had formed gangs within the prison system in states such as California. This led to an increase in organized crime in Honduras. In 2009, political instability was created when a military coup overthrew their former president, Manuel Zalaya. The current government in place has had accusations of corruption and fraud, with the most recent 2017 election mired in controversy. Due to the political unrest, organized crime continued to gain a more prominent hold, leading to more corruption and violence and leaving many aching to flee Honduras.


Poor socioeconomic growth in the Northern Triangle of Central America is a major reason for the migration of refugees occurring in this region. The United States has tried to circumvent the economic crisis in the three countries by implementing the “Alliance for Prosperity”. This 2017 initiative was established with the Northern Triangle governments to allocate about $1.3 billion to Central American countries in hopes of offering socioeconomic growth for families. However, the majority of refugees have gained little to no economic growth in their countries due to their low-wage jobs working in agriculture. Nearly half are unemployed, seeking jobs in countries like the US. Recent natural disasters caused by climate change have affected workers in the agricultural sector, leading to food shortages and decreasing job opportunities, and many have been targeted by gang violence due to their socioeconomic vulnerability.

Where are refugees relocating to?

Source – Government, CEPAD, UNHCR

Overwhelmed with poverty, violence, and corruption, people are fleeing to other countries in Latin America, Europe and the United States. Refugees are desperately trying to find asylum in the United States, begging U.S. border patrol agents for asylum instead of trying to cross the US-Mexico border illegally. The U.S. has only granted asylum to ~13% of the applicants. Notably, this is an increase from the 2015 acceptance rate.

The majority of the refugee population resides in the United States of America. There is also a significant and increasing presence in Belize, Costa Rica and Mexico, as well as to a lesser extent in Nicaragua and Panama.

According to the UNHCR, there 833,274 total refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons from the Northern Triangle region, with 416,311 (50%) waiting for their asylum applications to be approved.

Vulnerable Populations


Pending Asylum Seekers

Internally Displaced People


Number (%)

98,373 (12%)

416,311 (50%)

318,590 (38%)



The population of Guatemala is ~18 million, the population of Honduras is ~10 million, and the population of El Salvador is ~6.5 million. As economic and political instability continues and the effects of climate change worsen, it is expected for these populations to decrease and/or the population of refugees and other vulnerable groups to increase dramatically over the course of the next decade.

Guatemalans are the largest share of migrants followed by Hondurans and then Salvadorans. Women and children are increasingly growing groups.

Immigration Misconceptions

One of biggest misconceptions with the Northern Triangle and immigration generally are the effects migration could bring to the United States. Many people believe that if we let refugees into our country they will bring gangs and violence into the United States. President Donald Trump has continually stereotyped immigrants by statements like “[Mexican Illegal Immigrants] are bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume are good people.” Yet, many of the refugees who are seeking asylum, are fleeing due to the dangerous conditions they are in their home countries which include gang related violence. In fact, several research has shown that immigrants do not heighten violent crimes (Nowrasteh, 2019). Again, immigrants are leaving extremely dangerous living conditions, coming into the United States, they are not looking to get involved with gangs or violence, rather they are fleeing from it.

Another common misconception is that the “leniency” in U.S. immigration policy is the reason why there has been a great increase in immigrants trying to come into the United States, more specifically children under the age of 18. Many people who oppose immigration blame our immigration policies and claim that we make it so accessible for immigrants to come, especially for children coming through programs like DACA. Yet, in reality many of the countries within the Northern Triangle do not truly understand the different immigration policies. The families who seek to migrate are trying to leave a life of constant poverty, fear, and violence. They come with the assumption, as stated by Coyotes, that a better life and truly the only way out for their children is leaving their country and coming to the United States.

Legislation/International Aid

In March 2019, President Trump had stopped funding the Northern Triangle until November of 2019 when there had been new leadership in all three countries, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. With new nation leaders in the Latin American countries taking responsibility and actively engaged in the immigration crisis, the Trump administration had resumed funding to programs that reduce migration and help the economic collapse contributing to the crisis. One example of such programs is the “protection cooperation agreement” with El Salvador which aims to implement protection options for the most vulnerable populations that are within proximity of their home and also build the capacity for El Salvador to protect its citizens.

For Guatemalan refugees coming into the United States, refugees must first seek asylum. Doing so can be increasingly difficult to be granted legal stay because the amount of asylums accepted are very slim. For example, in just 2018 where President Trump set the overall cap at about 45,000 asylum seekers who were allowed entry to the United States, regardless of what country. However, only about 23,000 refugees from various countries were actually admitted despite 33,000 refugees from Guatemala alone had fled their homeland and filed for asylum. Nonetheless, it was reported in June 2019 the U.S had about 144,000 asylum seekers and refugees held in custody suggesting that the U.S has higher rates of detaining refugees rather than granting them safety and protection.

It is important to note that despite the temporal financial cuts imposed by President Trump, there has been $2 billion funded towards the Northern Triangle Crisis by the U.S. and other donors. Nonetheless, immigration has continued to soar because the funding has been misdirected in not directing those funds at the root causes of migration such as the invasive violence and organized crime, poverty, lack of economic opportunity, corruption, and low tax revenue. Instead, the aid has been put towards security initiatives, strengthening the justice sector or anti-narcotic projects which prove to be lackluster and counterproductive.



Help rush critical supplies like medicine, clean water, food and tents to desperate children and families. Provide refugees with emergency support, long-term care and hope for the future.

Your donation will help us provide care and basic hygiene items to families and children, many of whom are exhausted and overwhelmed after a harrowing journey. Your gift will also ensure children and families have access to safe places for play and rest, emotional support, and guidance for parents on how to stay healthy and protect themselves from coronavirus. Ten percent of funds donated for specific emergencies go to their emergency reserves Children’s Emergency Fund. 

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