Central American families are arriving at the U.S. southern border in record numbers, pushing unauthorized crossings to a 12-year high. Unlike past migration waves, when most migrants were Mexican laborers who typically headed for Texas, California and other western states, the latest newcomers are fanning out across the United States to reunite with family members.
The U.S. government has not released information on the whereabouts or U.S. destinations of recent migrants. But The Washington Post has obtained exclusive data on the nationality and U.S. destination of one small sample: 1,545 migrants who passed through a shelter run by the El Paso nonprofit Annunciation House in February, about 2 percent of the total number of migrants who crossed into the country that month.
Annunciation House arranges with U.S. authorities to take those released from custody into local shelters and then help them arrange travel to their destinations in the U.S. interior.
The White House has been floating plans to ship migrants to “sanctuary cities” — localities that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities — and then release them there, trying to retaliate against Democratic lawmakers who have blocked funding for more immigration detention beds. Though authorities have said there is no operational plan in place to do so, President Trump tweeted Friday that such plans are under “strong consideration."
The Annunciation House data reviewed by The Post — travelers’ country of origin and their destination city after release from immigration custody — shows that migrants headed for cities and towns in 42 states, including many places that are not considered sanctuary cities. Many migrants went to the Southeast and Midwest, regions that were not major immigrant destinations a generation ago.
The migrants who traveled through Annunciation House came from nearly a dozen countries, including four countries that accounted for 95 percent of the monthly total: Guatemala, Honduras, Cuba, and El Salvador. Others came from Mexico, Nicaragua, Brazil, and Ecuador. Four migrants came from Russia and one each came from Venezuela and Iraq.
Guatemala in recent months has surpassed Mexico as the leading source of unauthorized migrants at the U.S. border. Emigration levels are highest from the country’s impoverished rural highlands, where years of drought and meager harvests have pushed the region’s highest malnutrition rates even higher. Guatemalan smuggling networks are the most developed in Central America, producing fake documents, a lending system for migrants and savvy “coyote” smuggling guides who operate like travel agencies and deliver families to the U.S. border in a matter of days using express buses.
Honduras is now the second-largest source of migrants to the United States, after Guatemala. The caravan groups that have been a focus of President Trump’s anger are overwhelmingly composed of Honduran migrants fleeing the country’s political violence, fearsome street gangs and endemic rural poverty.
Salvadoran numbers are way down. They used to be roughly comparable to Honduras and Guatemalans, but U.S. humanitarian aid that supports programs in El Salvador have contributed to improving public safety and job prospects in the country, reducing the flow of migrants to the United States. U.S. officials have praised the efforts of USAID as a model that should be extended to the rest of the region, which is known as the Northern Triangle.
Sergio Flores contributed to this report.