Aid, not tariffs, will help address migration From Central America

Aid, not tariffs, will help address migration From Central America
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Congress eyes billion to billion to combat coronavirus Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary MORE’s efforts to address migration from Central America continue to be a race to the bottom in morally reprehensible policies: family separation, an archaic wall and now, senseless tariffs on Mexican imports.

Another month of record arrivals and yet more news of deaths of children in the custody of Customs and Border Patrol only demonstrate the total failure of the Administration’s policies and inflammatory rhetoric. President Trump’s intention to slap tariffs on Mexican imports will only make things worse. 

None of the administration’s recent attempts — including cruel efforts to separate families, force asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico, limit entry and indefinitely detain those who arrive on U.S. soil seeking protection — have reversed the surge in arrivals at the border. That’s because they do not address the root causes of migration. 


Escalating tariffs will not deter migration but will have detrimental effects on our economy, Mexico’s economy and the poorest in both countries. These policies will not stop people seeking a better life; families are fleeing because they must in order to survive. If anything, tariffs will actually increase migration pressures throughout the region. 

Instead of prioritizing headline-grabbing initiatives that seek to caste Mexico as the problem, the administration should take a hard look at why people are fleeing Central America in the first place. Among the worst of their recent proposals is slashing foreign aid, a counterproductive measure which is the absolute last thing the administration should do.

Not only is it morally wrong, it undermines U.S. efforts to address the root causes behind forced migration. In the face of its current failed policies, the administration should support solutions to address gang and gender-based violence, strengthen government institutions to curb corruption and impunity, and invest in initiatives that create decent jobs so that migration becomes a choice — and not the survival option of last resort. 

As an organization that has been working in Central America for over three decades to eradicate inequality and poverty, Oxfam has seen how thoughtful, long-term investments that improve lives and livelihoods, reduce violence, strengthen good governance and implement judicial reforms that curtail corruption and impunity at all levels can make a real difference.

On a recent trip to El Salvador, I saw how strategic investments in women rights, youth empowerment and civic engagement programs can prevent violence, provide people the tools to defend themselves while holding their governments accountable and challenge the inequality and instability that is driving people to migrate.  


In the community of Getsemaní, for example, I met the dynamic women of the Gardenias Women’s Association at the Shaira Ali Center who, with Oxfam’s support, are confronting the pervasive violence in their homes and towns. This is important in a country that is one of the world’s most dangerous countries to be a woman: in El Salvador, a woman is tragically murdered every 19 hours. Most cases are not investigated and perpetrators rarely brought to justice. In 2016, less than one percent of femicides ended in a definitive sentence. A new study found rates of sexual violence rose by a third last year, with the majority of cases involving teenage girls.

Slashing funding for the very programs that are a lifeline to women and girls, the U.S. should prioritize and strengthen programs that address gender-based violence (GBV). Moreover, strengthening the rule of law and the judiciary will not only help women fleeing violence but society at large, instilling public confidence that government institutions are functioning and the rule of law is respected and upheld. Without strong judicial systems, victims of domestic or gang violence will continue to be denied the right to bring perpetrators to justice and will continue to flee for protection.

The U.S. has also been the major donor for judicial strengthening in El Salvador and for the anti-corruption bodies in Guatemala and Honduras. Aid cuts threaten the small but important advances these countries have made to combat corruption and impunity.

Social progress is not a switch that can be turned on or off. Cutting aid is playing roulette with people whose lives and livelihoods are directly or indirectly tied to these and other U.S. assistance programs. Abruptly ending aid will waste the U.S. taxpayer dollars already invested and undermine years of progress. This would be devastating to the region and only exacerbate the drivers forcing people to flee in the first place.

Stopping aid, starting trade wars, indefinitely detaining migrants, charging asylum seekers a fee, and building a wall will not make the migration crisis disappear. Addressing the root causes in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador – people’s cry for decent jobs, safety, and a future — will. 

Abby Maxman is the president of Oxfam America.