Abstract: Migration from Central America to the United States: A Systems Dynamics Perspective (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

381P Migration from Central America to the United States: A Systems Dynamics Perspective

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Abigail Underwood, BA, PhD Student, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Background and Purpose: In the past 5 years, the policy at the Guatemalan-Mexican border shifted to focus on increasing security measures, with encouragement and financial assistance from the United States.  The Southern Border Program is the primary propagation of change in Mexico.  Further, the United States is strengthening the militarization of its southern border, a policy tendency that threatens the safety of all migrants—informal or not—heightens political contentiousness of the immigration, and ultimately shifts migration patterns to and from the country.  The changing migration policies do little to change the inflow of Central American migrants to the United States because the primary motivation is fleeing their country-of-origin.  The relationship between increased border securitization, economic conditions, violence and restrained migration creates a dynamic system with feedback, reinforcing behaviors and complexity that makes achieving successful interventions challenging.  The purpose of this presentation is to analyze the movement of individuals, including salient intervention points related to migration, between Central America and the United States using Systems Dynamics Modeling.  Constructal Theory guides the synthesis of this complex system, identifying the migrant flows between borders and the barriers to these flows.

Methods: Using Systems Dynamics Modeling, a Stella model synthesizes the movement of people from Central America, through Mexico, to the United States and back.  The model is calibrated using data reported from migration policy and research authorities, including the Washington Office of Latin America, Migration Policy Institute, the Department of Homeland Security and Mexican federal government. The model is used to illuminate hypothetical shifts in migration given certain policy or variable changes in the dynamic system.

Results: The model shows the salience of violence, economic conditions and border security measures in the overall migration system.  If violence and economic conditions both worsen, the influx of migrants to the United States is not deterred by the increased securitization of the U.S-Mexico border, nor the Mexico-Guatemala border.  Further, when internal conditions in Central American countries are addressed the migration flow is drastically deterred.

Conclusions and Implications: The Stella model condenses the complex system of international migration to highlight potential intervention points to increase the safety of the migrants involved given the contentiousness of the issue.  The model demonstrates the importance of preventative migration policy and emphasizes the ineffectiveness of the reactive tendencies of the current system.  Decreasing violence in Central America, not border security, is the most effective measure to intervene in mass migration inflows. This is relevant to social work because it provides policy advocates and scholars alike with guidance, evidence and suggestions for points of focal intervention.  Additionally, the model suggests need for culturally tailored, effective violence reduction techniques for international social work practitioners. These findings bolster conversation on the importance of considering multilateral interventions for transnational realities and work to challenge misunderstandings of migration on a systems level.