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New Study Sheds Light on Impacts of Deportation

The RTI-led research team conducted a random survey of people deported from the U.S. to Guatemala


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A new study conducted by RTI International and recently featured by the Brookings Institution offers an examination of the motivations and experiences of Guatemalan deportees. The study is particularly timely as policymakers consider immigration policy and related foreign assistance programming to address migration push factors in the Northern Triangle.


The research team, led by RTI’s Wayne Pitts and Chris Inkpen, surveyed a random sample of people deported to Guatemala during a six-month period over 2019 and 2020.

The researchers found that of those surveyed, most had emigrated to the U.S. for economic reasons. They also found that over a third of migrants surveyed were deported from within the U.S. rather than being detained at the border.

Of those migrants that lived in the U.S., nearly all had found employment and as a result almost half had accumulated assets in the U.S. that they had to leave behind when deported back to Guatemala. Additionally, most deportees both living in the U.S. and detained at the border had family still in the U.S., in some cases including spouses and/or children, and very few had committed non-migration crimes while in the U.S.

The study also looked at the experience of deportees upon their return to Guatemala. Survey results showed that in choosing where to live following their deportation individuals focused on security concerns, availability of jobs and social networks. As a result, nearly all the deportees surveyed were not local to the city of re-entry, which coupled with poor support systems for returned deportees, led to increased vulnerability to victimization upon repatriation.

Results also showed that despite the availability of jobs being a primary focus for deportees, fewer than half were able to secure a job in Guatemala, and more than half of respondents reported “some” or “a lot” of gang activity and police mistreatment in their communities. As a result, only 22% of respondents were clear that they had no intention of remigrating to the U.S.

“This research is unique because there has been little research on people’s motivations and actions after being deported,” said Pitts, a senior research criminologist at RTI. “It’s a first step toward understanding the full consequences of deportation and the relationship between and effectiveness of U.S. deportation policy and U.S. foreign assistance programming, which offers the possibility of breaking the cycle of economically driven migration.”

Following the implementation of a pilot study, RTI partnered with the DevLab at Duke University to implement the full study, which included conducting interviews outside the airport in Guatemala City that serves as the main arrival point for deportees returned to the country. Initial arrival survey data was collected before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and follow-up surveys continued at various intervals for up to one year after arrival.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Narcotics and Law Enforcement as part of the Model Police Precinct (MPP) Project (2016-2020). A comprehensive report on its findings is pending publication.