An El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) report dated July 7, leaked to Breitbart and published online Tuesday, may shed new light on what is driving the immigration crisis.
The report, titled “Misperceptions of U.S. Policy Key Driver in Central American Migrant Surge,” was prepared by the Criminal Threats Unit, Strategic Analysis Section, of EPIC, which is jointly run by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. DEA Special Agent Joseph Moses confirmed to Newsweek that the document is a leaked EPIC report.
The report presents two major conclusions that could potentially be contentious. The first is EPIC’s claim that “violence is likely not the principal factor driving the increase in UAC [unaccompanied child] migration.” In this section of the document, the EPIC cites migration statistics and homicide rates in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. However, EPIC’s presentation of the data and the conclusion it draws from it may require additional attention.
EPIC’s second conclusion is summarized in the document’s title. The report says, “The El Paso Intelligence Center assesses the significant increase in Central American migrants arriving at the border since mid-2013 is most likely driven by traditional migration factors [i.e., family reunification, economic conditions, etc.] exacerbated by misperceptions of recent U.S. immigration policies among migrants. These misperceptions are likely fueled by human smugglers and Central American media providing deliberate, errant, or unwitting reporting to migrants on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) memorandum and comprehensive U.S. immigration reform.”
The data cited in this section of the report come mostly from interviews with unaccompanied children and migrant families.
In addition to reporting EPIC’s findings, Newsweek presents here the evidence that the intelligence center cites in the document. Three graphs are under the heading “Homicide Rates Suggest Violence Compounding the Surge But Likely Not the Primary Factor.”
One of the graphs, based on United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime data from 2012, shows that per capita homicide rates in Central America are significantly higher than in the rest of the world. While 6.3 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants occurred globally in 2012, the number in Central America was 31.1. In Honduras, it was 90.4. The graph does not include a column for the U.S., which had a homicide rate of 4.8 that year.
The other two graphs are side by side, one charting Central American immigration trends from 2009 to 2014 and the other charting Central American homicide rates from 2008 to 2013. The caption beneath the pair of graphs points to the “decline in per capita homicide rates in these three countries” and juxtaposes this with the increase in UAC migration to “suggest violence is likely not the primary factor.”
The graph of border encounters and the apprehensions of Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans from 2009 to 2014 has two lines for each country to show that separate patterns emerge when the total number of immigrants is compared with the unaccompanied children subset. The graph shows that 2013 was a turning point, when the number of unaccompanied children coming from each of the three nations began surging upward at an unprecedented rate. This is particularly noteworthy because the lines showing the overall number of immigrants (not just the UAC subset) coming from Guatemala and El Salvador actually begin to decline during the 2013-14 period. We are able to see the unique surge in child migration because this graph continues into 2014.
The other graph, which shows fluctuations in homicide rates in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, ends in 2013. In other words, the turning point that we see on the immigration chart is not even on the homicide rates graph. The caption beneath the side-by-side charts says that they “suggest violence is not the principal factor driving UAC migration.” This argument could be made stronger if the violence graph included the 2013-14 period, during which the surge in unaccompanied child migration occurred.
Furthermore, the caption refers to the “decline in per capita homicide rates in these three countries,” neglecting the fact that Honduras’s line on the chart ends 15 points higher than it began. In 2013, there were 80 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants of Honduras (which has a population of 8 million), versus 60 per capita in 2008. Honduras is the nation with the world’s highest murder rate, and NPR reports that as many as 20 people are killed there every day.
EPIC’s homicide chart shows that Guatemala’s rates have remained relatively consistent, as the line is very nearly horizontal. It ends up showing about four or so per capita homicides fewer in 2013 than in 2008—a number that is still about 30 per capita homicides higher than the U.S. murder rate. El Salvador’s line is the only one that shows a significant decrease in homicides, from just over 50 per capita in 2008 to between 40 and 50 in 2013 (a drop EPIC attributes to a truce between the Salvadoran government and the country’s dominant drug gangs, MS-13 and Calle 18). When the chart ends, this line seems to be plateauing at a figure showing nearly 40 per capita homicides more than in the U.S.
Since the graphical data may be misleading and the conclusions drawn from it may require more investigation (not to mention that statisticians warn, “Correlation does not imply causation”), the immigrant interviews may be the stronger piece of evidence in EPIC’s report.
EPIC cites two distinct interview projects. One was conducted by the office of the United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), and all of the respondents were unaccompanied children. The other interviews were conducted by the U.S. Border Patrol, and the respondents were a mixed body of migrant families and unaccompanied children. The report did not specify what percentage of the cited respondents were minors.
EPIC says, “The UNHCR interviewed 302 UAC from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador—43% indicated violence from gangs or organized crime as a factor for leaving home, 22% indicated abuse as a factor, and 44% did not cite fear of serious harm as a deciding factor for leaving. Individual country results, however, do indicate societal violence is a predominant factor affecting UAC from El Salvador.”
In making sense of this part of the EPIC report, Newsweek assumes that the surveyed children were able to indicate a combination of factors, and some indicated both gang violence/organized crime and abuse. The fact that 44% of respondents said that fear of harm was not a deciding factor means that for 56% of respondents it was. This contradicts EPIC’s conclusion that “violence is likely not the primary factor.”
The other interviews discussed in the report may help explain what motivated the 44% of children who told the UNHCR that fear of serious harm was not why they left home.
According to EPIC, “In late May, the U.S. Border Patrol interviewed unaccompanied children and migrant families apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley. Of the 230 migrants interviewed, 219 cited the primary reason for migrating to the United States was the perception of U.S. immigration laws granting free passes (permisos) to UAC and adult female OTMs [other than Mexicans] traveling with minors. Migrants indicated that knowledge of permisos was widespread across Central America due to word of mouth, local, and international media messaging.”
The Border Patrol’s interviews yielded highly valuable information about how people attempting to illegally cross the border perceive U.S. immigration policy and how many of them came to have a mistaken notion of that policy.
According to EPIC, the Honduran and El Salvadoran press, incorrectly interpreting the specifics of U.S. law, have “advertised the DACA policy, accommodations for detained UAC, and the promise of reunification with family members in the United States.”
DACA applies only to young immigrants who have been living in the United States for the past seven years. The law stipulates that in order to qualify for DACA, a person must have entered the United States at age 15 or younger; has continuously resided in the United States since 2007; was physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012; has not been convicted of crimes; poses no threat to national security/public safety; and is either in school or has a high school diploma/GED, or is an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or the U.S. armed forces.
Earlier this month, a media campaign was launched by the U.S. government in Central America to combat misperceptions about American laws.
Already, Central American media have been very helpful. The leaked EPIC document cites Costa Rican press reporting on “Honduran and Guatemalan immigration officials [who] attribute the UAC surge to alien smugglers, or coyotes, preying on mothers and children by motivating them with false U.S. amnesty or asylum rumors.”
EPIC says, “The majority of migrants [that the U.S. Border Patrol] interviewed in late May indicated that they made arrangements with smugglers in their respective countries.”
EPIC concludes that “alien smuggling organizations and individual smugglers are likely responsible for perpetuating rumors encouraging the Central American migration surge to increase their financial gain.”
The report’s final assessment is “that UAC flow to the border will remain elevated until migrants’ misperceptions about U.S. immigration benefits are changed. We further judge that this process could take the remainder of 2014 given the time needed for bilateral coordination efforts—such as information and enforcement campaigns in Mexico and Central America—to take hold.”