Foreign Aid to Central America: A Solution to Immigration

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SEATTLE, Washington — Stories of mass migration dominated headlines earlier this year as a large caravan of refugees from Central America was seen heading towards the United States. These migrants had been driven out of their home countries by threats of violence, poor economic conditions and malnutrition. Immigration statistics, following a decrease in these factors, show how foreign aid to Central America has helped reduce the number of people fleeing.

The 2014 Migration Crisis

Politicians relentlessly debate on how to deal with immigration. The solution to immigration could be to eliminate the problem at its source. Reducing the key factors in countries with high levels of migration will decrease the number of refugees seeking asylum in the United States. The response to the 2014 migrant crisis demonstrates how increasing foreign aid ameliorates the issues that cause migration as well as decreases claims for asylum. 

More than 60,000 children, mostly unaccompanied, were taken into custody by the United States in 2014. This number was more than two times the previous year and ten times the total in 2009. These children traveled mainly from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The drug trade has wracked these countries with violence. In addition, citizens in Northern Triangle countries face a lack of educational and employment opportunities as well as the threat of famine. 

As a result, refugee children found the dangers of traveling alone to the United States more bearable than the conditions at home. A study by the U.N. High Council of Refugees found that more than half of the children traveling to the U.S. were fleeing their home countries due to safety conditions. Many other children were fleeing poor economic conditions, hoping to reunite with family members in the United States in search of greater educational and employment opportunities.  

Foreign Aid to Central America Has Helped

In response to the migrant crisis of 2014, the Obama administration committed an initial $740 million in aid to Northern Triangle countries. As a result of this increased aid, border crossings steadily declined. In fact, in 2017, they reached their lowest point since 1972. Total border crossings in the southwest region decreased from 479,371 in 2014 to 303,916 migrants in 2017. This decrease was in large part due to improving conditions in Central American countries. The aid helped decrease homicide rates, boost economic activity and increase government revenue. 

Although the numbers began to rise again in 2018, they are still a far cry from the more than one million detained in 2006. Some of the reasons that the numbers declined were related to improvements in the countries themselves. From 2015 to 2017, homicide rates fell in El Salvador by 42 percent, in Guatemala by 13 percent and by 23 percent in Honduras. In at-risk neighborhoods of El Salvador and Honduras, where programs were specifically focused, experiences a declined of 66 percent and 78 percent in homicide rates. 

The United States Foreign Aid

USAID agricultural programming focused on the Western Highlands of Guatemala, an area with a history of migration as a result of famine and poverty. The efforts of USAID in this region resulted in a 51 percent increase in sales for rural farmers and created 20,000 jobs in the agriculture industry. Foreign aid to Central American countries has led to an increase in self-sufficiency. A USAID investment of $5 million to reform El Salvador’s tax system led to an annual increase of revenue of $350 million. As a result, El Salvador has been able to increase its spending on social welfare. 

These statistical feats demonstrate how foreign aid to Central America is helping to reduce the number of people fleeing. Increased aid in response to the 2014 migrant crisis led to the lowest level of border crossings in decades. Foreign Aid helps a develop country’s economic systems and improve the social issues that afflict poverty-stricken countries. Maintaining constant aid to these countries is crucial to sustaining this progress. 

Cutting Aid Will Increase Migration

Cutting U.S. foreign assistance to the Northern Triangle, as proposed by the Trump Administration, would be detrimental to programs that have made notable progress in stabilizing the region. Foreign aid to these countries has already been shown to help reduce the key factors of immigration. Stability in Central America would likely reduce the likelihood of any future migration crises similar to those faced by both the Obama and Trump administrations.

 An increase in aid seems to be the most pragmatic solution to immigration. The Northern Triangle Enhancement Act would serve as a suitable means of decreasing migrants seeking asylum in the United States. The bill, which recently passed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee with bipartisan support, would appropriate $577 million in 2020 to the region to promote economic development and democratic institutions to reduce the push factors of immigration. 

Peter Trousdale
Photo: Flickr

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