Washington’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies are making headlines around the world, but they are just the beginning of the devastating impact the Trump administration could have on migrants from Central America.
President Donald Trump said earlier this month he will soon seek authorization for a measure that would cut foreign aid to countries sending waves of migrants to the U.S.
“I’m going to go very shortly for authorization that when countries abuse us by sending their people up – not their best – we’re not going to give any more aid to those countries,” Trump said, speaking at the National Federation of Independent Businesses’ 75th anniversary.
“Why the hell should we?” the president asked.
The aid cuts would disproportionately affect countries in Central America, including Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, which account for most individuals crossing the border, second to Mexico. However, contrary to the president’s statement, countries are not “sending” their citizens to the U.S. as a punishment, but rather many people are being forced to flee due to increasing levels of insecurity, poverty and conflict.
Trump’s proposed cuts to U.S. foreign aid will inadvertently increase the number of asylum seekers arriving to the U.S., especially from countries in Central America. Rather than withholding desperately needed programming aimed at reducing violence and stabilizing these countries, the U.S. needs to work more closely with these countries if it hopes to reduce immigration flows.
Central America became a key area of U.S. foreign policy in the late 1970s, when a number of conflicts and revolutions broke out across the region. U.S. development assistance spiked during this time.
U.S. development assistance fell in the 1990s, but it began to increase again by the early 2000s as the region began to see more conflict. However, a significant amount of these funds were allocated to the war on drugs, rather than for security and development.
This began to change in recent years, after former president Barack Obama’s administration established the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America, aimed at addressing the “underlying conditions driving irregular migration from the Central America” through programs targeting the drivers of violent conflict, including governance, security and rule of law.
Additionally, in response to the influx of unaccompanied minors to the U.S. in 2014, the Inter-American Development Bank and the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras created the Alliance for Prosperity (A4P). This program also addresses drivers of conflict in these countries by creating economic growth and jobs, improving public safety, and strengthening institutions.
In March, however, Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which allocated $615 million in funding for Central America – $85 million less than in 2017, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service presented to Congress in May. And if Trump’s statement in June is any indication, aid might be cut even further.
What’s more, the Trump administration is set to end Temporary Protected Status of thousands of immigrants from Central America. In January, TPS will end for an estimated 5,000 Nicaraguans, and some 200,000 Salvadorans are expected to lose their status in September 2019.
Cutting aid and ending TPS will only increase violent conflict and will drive people to return to the U.S. border regardless of the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policies. Washington should focus on real deterrence measures that address the drivers of the violent conflict at the source so people can be secure in their home countries and are not forced to flee.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Peacebuilding Deeply.