Throwing money at Central America will not curb illegal migration
President Biden last week introduced his administration’s major immigration bill, after issuing an executive order on Feb. 2 to address the root causes of migration from Central America to the United States and, during his campaign, pledging to spend at least $4 billion to reduce “endemic corruption, violence and poverty” in the region.
While the concept of increasing foreign aid to assist struggling countries may sound good on paper, it is highly ineffective — especially in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Throwing billions of dollars at these countries will not reduce illegal migration to the United States. The money likely will be abused by corrupt government officials, and the investment does not address the pull factors that incentivize illegal immigration at our southern border.
Foreign aid packages have not reduced or controlled migration from the Northern Triangle countries in recent years. In response to the 2014 humanitarian and border crisis, largely fueled by migrating families from these three countries, the United States introduced the Alliance for Prosperity initiative that committed an initial $750 million to these countries to help alleviate poor economic conditions and violence.
But this aid package did little to deter illegal immigration. In fiscal year 2014, then seen as one of the worst border crises on record, immigration authorities apprehended roughly 237,000 migrants from these countries. But in FY 2019, prior to COVID-19 travel and border restrictions, around 623,000 migrants were apprehended — a more than 160 percent increase in just five years.
This increase is in line with the numerous migrant caravans that have increased in frequency from 2018 and that come in record sizes. If U.S. aid were working as intended, border agents would be apprehending fewer people. Instead, the opposite is occurring.
The Northern Triangle countries are burdened by generations of corrupt and inept governments that neglect the needs and interests of their people and loot the countries’ treasuries for their own gain. They cannot be trusted with large sums of aid.
In a recently declassified corruption report, the State Department accused more than 50 current or former senior officials of engaging or facilitating corruption in the Northern Triangle countries.
In Guatemala, former president Jimmy Morales prevented a United Nations-backed anti-corruption investigation into his government and was accused of widespread crimes. He then questionably received immunity while his administration officials were prosecuted.
Similarly, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was recently charged for taking bribes from drug traffickers and, according to U.S. prosecutors, had the country’s armed forces protect a cocaine laboratory and shipments to the United States.
These incidents reveal that there is little trust in these leaders. Rewarding them with billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars in aid likely will not help their impoverished citizens.
Biden believes that addressing the root causes of migration in Central America will solve the nation’s illegal migration problem. But what he should be addressing are his own policies that encourage migrants to come to our border.
In just over a month, Biden has undermined the nation’s border security by suspending the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program and halting all border wall construction. To impoverished Central Americans, these actions indicate the border is open and anyone is invited to come over.
Once migrants cross into the country illegally, they likely won’t be removed; Biden has halted immigration enforcement in the interior of the country. He also declared his intention to freeze deportations for at least 100 days and to eliminate private immigration detention centers. It is unclear whether these initiatives will be fully implemented, but the message itself is likely encouraging migrants to come to America.
To top it all off, the Biden administration introduced mass-amnesty legislation that would grant more than 11 million illegal aliens in our country a pathway to U.S. citizenship. Rewarding those who knowingly broke our federal and immigration laws will serve as a significant pull factor to other migrants from the region.
Rather than address our nation’s poverty and crime — which he was elected to do — Biden appears content to shell out billions of dollars to Central American countries with little return to show for it. Working with these governments to address serious problems in their countries is a worthy idea, but they require sincere efforts from their own leaders. The United States cannot be forever held hostage to corrupt, incompetent regimes that mishandle their country’s problems.
It would be wise for the Biden administration to accept this reality and reassess its foreign aid and immigration policies.
Matthew Tragesser is press secretary at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in Washington. He previously worked in the Wisconsin State Senate and for a Wisconsin political nonprofit. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewTrag and @FAIRImmigration.