Arizona is now the main entry point for Guatemalans coming to the United States illegally, so the Guatemalan government plans to open a consulate this year in Phoenix.
Though the vast majority of illegal crossers still come from Mexico, an increasing number are coming from Central America because of a lack of jobs, and continued economic and political instability following years of civil strife in several countries, including Guatemala.
The 2000 census counted 7,150 Guatemalans living in Arizona, with 5,949 in Maricopa County. But Meigham puts the number at about 28,000, noting that most go uncounted because the majority are undocumented.
Following a brutal and repressive campaign to suppress a communist uprising, the Guatemalan government in 1996 signed a peace agreement with leftist guerrillas, ending a 36-year civil war that killed 100,000 people and created 1 million refugees.
During the 1980s, Guatemalans fleeing the war flooded the United States, and large numbers settled in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Florida.
Although the war is officially over, thousands of Guatemalans continue to flee the economic and political instability that remains. The newer arrivals have followed networks created by Guatemalans that came in the 1980s, and are expanding to other parts of the United States. The majority are undocumented immigrants, large numbers of who entered the country illegally through Arizona, where many have chosen to remain.
Castillo estimated between 1.2 million and 1.5 million people from Guatemala live in the United States. That is more than twice as many as the 480,665 Guatemalans counted by the 2000 census.