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Ending US Aid to Central America Likely to Drive More Migrants to the Southwest Border

sylvia longmire contributorBy Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security

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In another attempt to hold migrant source countries accountable for the volumes of people reaching the U.S.-Mexico border, President Donald Trump said on June 18 that he would cut off aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Ostensibly, the White House is thinking that this will motivate these countries to reduce the number of immigrants leaving and improve domestic economic and security conditions. However, it is more likely that a decrease in U.S. aid will have the opposite effect, and that even more impoverished Central Americans will now head to the southwest border for relief.

Trump’s Steps to Cut Off Aid to Central America

This is not the first time that Trump has taken steps towards limiting or cutting off economic aid to Central American countries. According to Reuters, the administration said in March 2019 that it would cut aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras after Trump expressed displeasure with their immigration policies. He made this threat while his former Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen was actually in Guatemala trying to hammer out an immigration agreement.

Central American Aid Funds

This current attempt to deter illegal immigration isn’t so much the elimination of funding as it is a reallocation. Congressional aides told Reuters the administration told them it would reallocate $370 million in aid to Central America that lawmakers had approved for fiscal year 2018. It would also suspend an additional $180 million Congress had approved for fiscal year 2017.

Furthermore, the State Department indicated no funds will be provided under the administration assessed by the countries are reducing the number of migrants reaching the U.S. border. None of the Central American aid money budgeted for 2017 or 2018 has been spent.

Recently, President Trump used the threat of tariffs in an attempt to get Mexico to initiate more effective border security measures. He received a significant amount of backlash from the agricultural sector and the business community for the negative impact it would have on their earnings and the U.S. economy in general.

Trump eventually backed off from implementing tariffs after several days of unsuccessful negotiations with Mexican government representatives. He said he was happy with what he convinced Mexican government to do, but the conditions of the agreement had actually been discussed and put into place several months prior to the tariff threat.

Criticism for Cutting Off Aid

The problem with reducing aid to already impoverished countries is that it makes the conditions causing people to leave even worse. Ironically, the administration’s attempts to staunch the flow of illegal immigrants to the United States through aid cuts would potentially make the situation even worse.

Lawmakers in Congress (from both parties) have criticized attempts to cut off this aid, saying this assistance is key to helping improve conditions that have contributed to the people leaving. It’s possible the White House realized this; only 48 hours after cutting off aid, the Trump administration said it would ease those cuts.

According to the Associated Press, the State Department reviewed more than $615 million in economic assistance to these three countries that Trump had intended to cut. It then stated it would go ahead with $432 million in projects that had been previously approved. The remaining amount will be held in escrow pending consultations with Congress. That figure of $432 million comes from the unspent 2017 budget, and would be spent on health, education, and poverty alleviation programs, as well as anti-crime efforts.

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