DHS Study: Economics, Not Violence or Climate, Drive Migration

Joe Guzzardi
4 min readJun 29, 2021

The University of Houston’s Borders, Trade, and Immigration Institute (BTI), a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence unit, describes itself as a “a multi-disciplinary team of national and international experts” that works to create “technology-driven solutions, data-informed policies, workforce development opportunities … and trans-disciplinary education.”

In accordance with its mission to secure U.S. borders, facilitate legitimate trade and travel, and ensure immigration integrity, BTI released its report titled, “Economic Motivations of Migrants from the Northern Triangle.” BTI’s findings would have been valuable to Vice President Kamala Harris prior to her failed trip to Guatemala and Mexico to discuss migration’s root causes, and could have saved her the time, trouble and embarrassment. Based on BTI’s biannual surveys, researchers learned that, overwhelmingly, migrants left their home countries for economic reasons. The causes that the immigration lobby, congressional advocates and refugee resettlement groups most often cite, violence and natural disasters, barely register, if at all. Family reunification ranks second as a pull factor, but significantly behind economics.

When BTI asked Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Hondurans to identify the specific cause that prompted them to leave their home countries, 68 percent, 92 percent and 83 percent, respectively, named lack of employment or poor economic conditions. Only in El Salvador did violence register at 19 percent. Natural disasters scored 0 percent across the board.

As for the mainstream media’s unfounded claim that fear of violence is the Northern Triangle’s biggest push factor, BTI’s findings repudiated that falsehood. Asked if in the 12 months leading up to migrating, the surveyed person or any family member had actually been a victim of robbery or assault, threats or extortion, intimidation by gangs or criminal groups, religious or political persecution, domestic or family violence, conflicts with another person, homicide of a relative or an acquaintance, or violence in the local community, by a huge margin, often as high as 100 percent, the replies were “no.”

BTI found that for Northern Triangle migrants, U.S. employment increases their incomes ten-fold, an irresistible pull factor. Economics are the key, not only to the Northern Triangle job-seeking aliens, but also to the countries that they leave behind that are increasingly remittance-dependent, especially after the steep decline in monies sent back home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the first six months of 2020, remittances from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala dropped 8 percent, 4.2 percent, and 0.9 percent, respectively, or $219 million, $108 million and $47 million. These totals represent the largest percentage decline since 2009’s first six months when the Great Recession’s effect was felt most severely.

Biden’s critics are convinced that his administration has no interest in ending the illegal alien influx. Since Biden created the border surge, enforcement advocates are certain that he has little interest in ending the nation-busting problem, especially since an easy solution is readily at hand — E-Verify, the online program that would require employers to check their new hires’ eligibility. Only U.S. citizens and lawfully present immigrants can keep the jobs that they had recently been hired to perform.

For 40 years, government officials have known that jobs are the core attraction not just for Northern Triangle migrants, but from those coming to the U.S. from across the globe. In 1981, the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy concluded in its final report that “All studies indicate that undocumented/illegal aliens are attracted to this country by U.S. employment opportunities.” The New York Times followed up with an Op-Ed that powerfully reinforced the commission’s findings. The Times wrote that the best illegal immigration deterrent is to “make it harder for them [migrants] to get the jobs that lure them.” In turn, continued The Times, the most efficient way to achieve that goal “is to make it illegal for employers to hire them…. Without effective verification, there can be no effective enforcement of the borders.”

Since 1996, a full quarter of a century, Congress has half-heartedly kicked around various versions of E-Verify. None proved acceptable, and the program has never been nationally mandated, a remarkable disregard for national sovereignty and an insult to American workers. Pre-pandemic, U.S. workers had been displaced by about 8 million illegal immigrants of its total 12 million estimated population in nonfarm administrative, construction, manufacturing, leisure and health care jobs. As of 2020, more than 967,000 employers use E-Verify at more than 2.4 million worksites, with 1,500 new participating companies added weekly. Somehow, and to America’s detriment, E-Verify’s free cost, simplicity and its success have left Congress unswayed.

Joe Guzzardi is a Progressives for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at jguzzardi@pfirdc.org.



Joe Guzzardi

Syndicated columnist Joe Guzzardi writes about American baseball history and immigration issues.