Central America: The Immigration Dilemma and Root Causes

Martha Bárcena, Ricardo Maduro, Kevin K. McAleenan, and Ricardo Zúniga shared collaborative strategies to address the migration crisis.


  • Ricardo Zúniga, U.S. Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle, U.S. Department of State
  • Martha Bárcena, former Ambassador of Mexico to the United States
  • Ricardo Maduro, former President of Honduras
  • Kevin K. McAleenan, former Acting Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • Eric Farnsworth, Vice President, Council of the Americas (moderator)

In a timely Americas Society/Council of the Americas panel on migration challenges facing Central America, top current and former U.S. and Latin American officials shared strategies to address root causes. Former Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Martha Bárcena suggested that, in the short term, governments should focus on improving existing programs, given that creating new ones is time-consuming. She emphasized the Mexican government’s proposal for Washington to promote circular migration through guest worker visas, and she voiced support for extending U.S.-Mexican-Canadian supply chains to Central America to meet economic development goals. Among other issues, former President of Honduras Ricardo Maduro stressed a need for focusing on deepening democracy in Central America by supporting strong leadership at the municipal level. Kevin McAleenan, former acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said that immigration strategy needs to not just be comprehensive, “but it also has to be collaborative,” involving close work with the region.

Ricardo Zúniga, U.S. special Envoy for the Northern Triangle at the State Department, outlined the Biden administration’s approach to Central America, saying it includes modernizing border crossings, strengthening customs unions, alleviating migration bottlenecks, and shoring up legal systems. He also pointed out just how important the region is to Washington, given that two-way trade with the DR-CAFTA countries tops $57 billion and given that three Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras together have 32 million people.