Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Fred J. Galloway, EdD, Chair Antonio Jimenez Luque, PhD, Member Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes, PhD, Member


unauthorized migration, unauthorized immigration, undocumented migration, undocumented immigration, illegal migration, illegal immigration, illegal border crossings, illegal entry, Central America, Central Americans, migrants, immigrants, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Northern Triangle, U.S. Border Patrol (USBP), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Department of Homeland Security, border enforcement, immigration enforcement, border security, apprehensions, border encounters, Southwest Border, US-Mexico border, Central American Migration Crisis, unaccompanied children (UAC), unaccompanied minors, unaccompanied migrant children, Other than Mexican (OTM), poverty, violence, immigration policy, immigration law, loopholes, international migration, international immigration, family unit, asylum, credible fear, socioeconomic indicators, migration surge, border statistics, immigration courts, immigration backlog, homicide, human smuggling, immigration detention, migrant crossings, DACA, TVPRA, Flores Agreement, catch and release


The last 8 years have seen a dramatic increase in the flow of Central American apprehensions by the U.S. Border Patrol. Explanations for this surge in apprehensions have been split between two leading hypotheses. Most academic scholars, immigrant advocates, progressive media outlets, and human rights organizations identify poverty and violence (the Poverty and Violence Hypothesis) in Central America as the primary triggers responsible. In contrast, while most government officials, conservative think tanks, and the agencies that work in the immigration and border enforcement realm admit poverty and violence may underlie some decisions to migrate, they instead blame lax U.S. immigration policies, incorrect perceptions of U.S. immigration policy, and the exploitation of immigration system loopholes (the Policy and Loophole Hypothesis) as the real cause of the surge. Despite the existence of opposing claims, neither side has provided a clear data-based explanation regarding what has caused the sudden surge of unauthorized immigration from Central America.

To address these competing claims, this study explored both hypotheses from a macrolevel using an empirically-driven quantitative research design. The study first identified the universe of data as tracked and gathered by large reputable organizations for the seven relevant countries/regions in the study (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Latin America, and United States). A total of 195 independent variables were selected with 181 of them being specific to each country/region. This data produced a series of 68 independent stepwise regression models that explored the direct and indirect effects of both competing hypotheses. Ultimately, the study found more overall support for the Policy and Loophole Hypothesis, though it did not produce findings that confidently dismiss the Poverty and Violence Hypothesis. However, findings do suggest the often-cited Poverty and Violence Hypothesis has likely been overstated and exaggerated as a cause of the Central American migration surge. Furthermore, while neither hypothesis had enough inferentially robust support to conclusively back its claims, the findings do provide credence to the argument that the often-dismissed Policy and Loophole Hypothesis must be considered along with the Poverty and Violence Hypothesis in any analysis looking at unauthorized immigration from Central America.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies