SEATTLE — The House Appropriations Committee has recommended that $296.5 million be allocated in the form of aid to Central America as part of the 2016 State and Foreign Operations bill, less than a third of what the Obama administration requested earlier this year.
The Obama administration’s proposed budget would have allocated $1 billion in aid aimed at remedying the economic and political conditions it considers to be the root causes of immigration: “These lines of effort are designed to achieve an economically-integrated Central America that provides economic opportunities to its people; more democratic, accountable, transparent, and effective public institutions; and a safe environment for its citizens to build their lives in peace and stability.”
That request was the result of a close study conducted by Obama administration officials who sought to identify the conditions that are compelling tens of thousands of Central Americans to flee the region. The study found that those conditions include chronic poverty, gang violence, corrupt public institutions and a general lack of economic opportunity among Central America’s poorest communities.
In the 2016 State and Foreign Operations bill released last Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee’s recommended allocation of aid to Central America comes with the condition that recipient countries take steps to reduce the flow of unauthorized immigrants into the United States. Opponents of the Obama administration’s request for increased aid to the region point to deep-seated corruption among recipient governments and uncertainty as to whether aid will be responsibly and efficiently allocated. For example, in an article published in March by ForeignPolicy.com’s Dana Frank, a professor of history at the University of California Santa Cruz, pointed to accusations of corruption and human rights violations against Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández as reason to question the flow of aid into the country.
“Despite overwhelming evidence of [President] Hernández’s dangerous record on human rights and security, the Obama administration has decided to lock down support for his regime,” Frank writes. “U.S. development, security, and economic funds are pouring into Honduras, and the White House is going full-court press to push for hundreds of millions more – even as Hernández consolidates his power in what the united opposition is now referring to as a dictatorship.”
While the number of non-Mexican immigrants detained along the United States’ southern border between October and April of this year is down 90,000 from the same period last year, the number detained by Mexican officials has vastly increased, the result of a request from U.S. officials last year that Mexico increase security along its southern border. Proponents of increased development aid to Central America argue that increasing border security is merely putting a bandage over a problem that is born out of much deeper and multifaceted social conditions.
“Enormous numbers of Central Americans are still fleeing, but most of them are now getting caught in Mexico instead of the United States,” said Adam Isacson, a Senior Associate for Regional Security with the Washington Office on Latin America. “This means it’s just as urgent as it was last year to address the violence and poverty driving Central American migration. But Mexico’s aggressive efforts against migrants have masked the sense of urgency that we should be feeling here in the United States about Central America’s humanitarian crisis.”
While politicians and pundits in the United States continue to debate how to approach Central American immigration, the Appropriation Committee’s decision to maintain the existing structure of aid to the region – the only alteration being an imprecise stipulation that recipient governments “take steps” to address the root causes of immigration – seems lifeless and apathetic to the plight of those who suffer from chronic poverty and unscrupulous public institutions. Those people – those living in the world’s poorest communities – ought to be the primary consideration of future aid appropriation legislation.
– Zach VeShancey