Unaccompanied migrant children housed in South Texas in 2014. (CBP photo)

GAO: USAID Assists Returning Migrants but Effectiveness of Reintegration Efforts Not Determined

In 2014, instability driven by insecurity, lack of economic opportunity, and weak governance led to a rapid increase of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras arriving at the U.S. border. In fiscal year 2017, the Department of Homeland Security reported (DHS) apprehending more than 200,000 nationals from these countries and removed nearly 75,000 nationals, including UAC, of these countries from the United States and returned them to their home countries. Current estimates also indicate nearly 350,000 individuals may need to be reintegrated to El Salvador and Honduras over the next few years when their Temporary Protected Status in the United States expires.

GAO was asked to review U.S. efforts to support the reintegration of Central American migrants. Its report publicly released on December 7 describes USAID efforts to assist reception and reintegration of migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras into their home countries since fiscal year 2014; and the effectiveness of these efforts. GAO reviewed agency program documents and funding data; interviewed officials from U.S. government agencies, IOM, and host governments and beneficiaries; and conducted site visits in these countries.

Since fiscal year 2014, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided approximately $27 million to the International Organization for Migration (IOM)—an intergovernmental organization focusing on migration—for assistance to migrants returning to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Assistance to migrants includes short-term reception services, such as food and transportation, renovating reception centers, and collecting data on returning migrants that are used to support their reintegration. Assistance also includes long-term reintegration efforts, such as counseling services and employment assistance to make it easier for migrants to readjust to and stay in their home countries. These various efforts are in different stages of development.

GAO notes that while reception services for migrants have improved, USAID has not yet assessed the effectiveness of reintegration efforts. USAID monitored and assessed reception services through site visits, meetings, and reports from IOM. IOM’s early efforts improved the three host governments’ capacity to provide reception services to returning migrants. For example, since fiscal year 2014, IOM renovated the seven reception centers and shelters being used in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Further, with IOM’s assistance, the host governments have improved their capacity to collect data about returning migrants. According to USAID and IOM, host governments are using these data to design policies and develop programs to provide reintegration assistance. While USAID has not yet assessed the effectiveness of reintegration efforts, many of these programs are just beginning.

IOM has strengthened the three governments’ capacity to collect, manage, analyze, and share migration information. Prior to these USAID-assisted efforts, data on returning migrants was limited in all three countries and the information produced was not readily available for use by other government agencies, according to USAID. Since 2015, with IOM equipment and training, all three countries have moved toward uniform, more detailed data collection systems. In Honduras, for instance, technical assistance from IOM enabled the creation of a single data repository, which provides migration data for all agencies to use.

IOM has trained staff of the countries’ migration directorates to use the registration systems for returning migrants and has trained personnel of other government agencies on how to analyze and use the data produced by the migration directorates. Each government now knows the number of migrants returning to the country—information that was not available previously. In addition, the governments now have such information as the causes of migration reported by returnees; the location from which the migrants are returning; and the location to which they are returning.

USAID expects to sign a new agreement by the end of December 2018 that would involve, among other things, monitoring and evaluating reintegration efforts in the three countries. The 3-year agreement with a Public International Organization (PIO) for a new program is expected to result in a strengthened focus on monitoring and evaluation systems to track reintegration at the community level. Additionally, the new program will use a cost-type agreement which is structured such that the PIO will be reimbursed or advanced funds for costs of goods and services to achieve the agreement purpose.

Read the full report at GAO

Kylie Bull has 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. She is an editor and contributor for Jane's by IHS Markit, a columnist for security and counter-terror publications, and a former managing editor for Homeland Security Today.

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