Migration from Huehuetenango in Guatemala’s Western Highlands: Policy and Development Responses
Migration is not new to Huehuetenango or to the other departments that make up Guatemala’s Western Highlands, but it has accelerated noticeably in recent years and become much more focused on the United States. In the Western Highlands, one of Guatemala’s poorest and most rural regions, money sent by migrants has become a key resource, helping families and communities improve their housing, clothing, nutrition, education, and more.
While unauthorized migration has become a lifeline and an increasingly common pathway to opportunity for many families in the Western Highlands, it also exposes migrants to significant risks and divides families. A critical first step toward developing alternatives to irregular migration—both within Guatemala and through opportunities to migrate via legal channels—is to understand the underlying causes and the more specific, immediate triggers that drive people to leave.
This study, the result of a collaboration between MPI and the Guatemalan nongovernmental organization Asociación Pop No’j, seeks to support this understanding through a close look at the patterns and drivers of emigration from Huehuetenango, as well as potential strategies to address push factors and create alternatives to unauthorized migration. It draws in part on more than 50 interviews conducted in Spring and Summer 2021 with community leaders, service providers, local and national government officials, leading scholars, and others.
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2 Patterns of Migration
3 Reasons for Migration
A. Population and Poverty Pressures
B. Ethnic Stratification
C. Food Security, Nutrition, and Health
D. Education and Human Capital
E. Employment, Markets, and Financial Access
F. Violence and Corruption
G. Climate Events and Climate Change
4 Building Alternatives to Unauthorized Migration
A. Creating Legal Pathways for Circular Migration
B. Building the Local Infrastructure for Development
C. Investing in People as Agents of Change