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If there’s something that “everybody knows” about the floods of Latin Americans who keep trying to migrate to the United States, legally and not, it’s that they’re acting out of desperation because their countries are such terrible places to live. As stated just this morning by Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, in the wake of news that 53 migrants found dead in the back of a sweltering tractor trailor that had snuck them across the U.S.-Mexico border paid the ultimate price for risking the dangerous journey northward:

The migration that is occurring throughout the hemisphere is reflective of the economic downturn, increase in violence throughout the region, the — the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the results of climate change.”

Surely the perils that have long faced Latin Americans (and many others) seeking new lives in America have been grave, and the living conditions (and physical dangers) in their home countries have often been appalling.

But what, then, is the explanation for four straight years of polling data from Gallup that consistently show the populations of some of the leading sending countries to be among the happiest on earth?

Recently, through an annual series of Global Emotions Reports, Gallup has tried to measure “positive and negative experiences” in most of the world’s countries to determine their people’s “day-to-day emotional states – such as enjoyment, stress, or anger – as well as their satisfaction with their lives.” Countries are then scored on a scale of 100, with the highest marks indicating where people by an average of these measures are happiest. (See here and here for these descriptions.) 

So it’s more than a little interesting that for most of the last four years (through 2021), the world’s happiest countries have included El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. Because, after all, the first three comprise Central America’s “Northern Triangle,” and collectively become the source of the largest number of immigrants arrested at the U.S.’ southern border as of fiscal year 2021. The latter remains the country that’s generated the most arrestees of any individual country. Here are the annual results from Gallup, including their score on that 100 scale and their global ranking.  (For links to the downloadable 2018-2020 reports and the 2021 report, see here.)  

                                    2018              2019            2020            2021

Guatemala                 3d (84)         2d (84)     not surveyed       n/a

Honduras                   4th (83)         5th (81)     not surveyed   3d (82)

El Salvador                4th (83)         2d (84)        1st (82)         3d (82)

Mexico                      3d (84)          4th (82)           n/a               n/a

As is clear, Honduras and El Salvador have been among the top five happiest countries for three of these four years. Mexico and Guatemala made this list in 2018 and 2019.

Unfortunately, when it comes to 2020, Guatemala and Honduras were not surveyed. And because Gallup hasn’t provided the scores and rankings for every country it’s studied, no results were available for Mexico in 2020 and 2021, and for Guatemala in 2021.

But as Gallup noted in 2020, “While several of the countries that usually top the list every year, including Panama, Honduras and Guatemala, were not surveyed in 2020, the region is still well represented on the Positive Experience Index. El Salvador leads the world with an index score of 82.” So it sounds like the pollsters believe that countries for which data is missing or not reported stayed pretty happy.

Also striking – the happiness scores of these four major sending countries were not only among the world’s highest. They were way above the global averages, which respectively were 71, 71, 71, and 69.

Polls, as I’ve repeatedly said, are by no means perfect, and polling in developing countries can be especially tricky because inhabitants often do live in dangerous environments where even the authorities (and often especially the authorities) can’t be trusted.

But these Gallup results are consistent over several years. And they are so at odds with the conventional wisdom about the deep-seated socio-economic reasons for hemispheric migration that they seem to add to the evidence that the recent surge stems less from changes in those root causes — or perhaps from these root causes at all (as opposed to seeking improvement, not survival or freedom) — and more from the more permissive immigation measures and rhetoric emanating from the current U.S. administration from Day One. That is, the recent situation really is a “Biden border crisis.”