Central American Civil Wars & Refugees

1980 — 1989

United States

Borders Migrations

The 1980s marked a new era of immigration to the United States, as the U.S. government, under President Carter, expanded its recognition of refugees (see also: Increased Asylum as U.N. Definition of Refugee Adopted, 1980) beyond those fleeing communist regimes.

Concurrently, many Central American countries were undergoing widespread social unrest. Large-scale Marxist movements clashed with military and paramilitary forces, many of them supported by the U.S. military. Despite the 1980 Refugee Act, newly elected President Reagan and his administration denied asylum to those fleeing to the U.S. on the grounds that Central American governments were not violating human rights. Despite these efforts, nearly a million Central American migrants entered the United States, many without documentation.

A solidarity network, known as the Sanctuary Movement, grew out of growing concerns for the United States’ role in Central America, the blockades placed on asylum seekers, and the large number of human rights violations. This movement worked to create safe spaces and support for refugees fleeing Central America.