Dismay as Trump moves to cut aid to Central America

A group of migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and Salvador awaiting processing underneath the Paso Del Norte Bridge in El Paso, Texas. US Customs and Border Protection has temporarily closed all highway checkpoints along the 430km stretch of border in
A group of migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and Salvador awaiting processing underneath the Paso Del Norte Bridge in El Paso, Texas. US Customs and Border Protection has temporarily closed all highway checkpoints along the 430km stretch of border in the El Paso sector to try to stem a surge in illegal entries.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Decision turns US policy on its head; some say it will aggravate root causes of migration

MEXICO CITY • President Donald Trump's announcement that aid to three Central American countries will be cut off for failing to stop the flow of immigrants towards the United States breaks with years of conventional wisdom in Washington that the best way to halt immigration is to attack its root causes.

The decision also runs counter to the approach advocated by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico, among others.

Mr Lopez Obrador has been lobbying Washington to join his government in investing billions of dollars in Central America and southern Mexico, arguing that economic development and reducing violence are the most effective ways to get Central Americans to remain home.

Ms Adriana Beltran, director of citizen security at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights research group that tracks aid closely, said cutting off aid is "shooting yourself in the foot".

But the US President has become incensed at the rising numbers of families arriving at the border with Mexico, asking for asylum.

His administration notified Congress late last Friday that it intends to reprogramme US$450 million (S$610 million) in aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and has already sent instructions to embassies in the region.

Ms Adriana Beltran, director of citizen security at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights research group that tracks aid closely, said cutting off aid is "shooting yourself in the foot".

"No money goes there any more," he told reporters last Friday.

"We're giving them tremendous aid. We stopped payment."

While legislators have tools to push back against that decision, it is very possible that some, if not all of that aid, could be suspended for now.

New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Mr Trump's order a"reckless announcement" and urged Democrats and Republicans alike to reject it.

The decision turns US policy in the region on its head.

 
 

Not only will it cut development and humanitarian assistance, but it will also halt joint law enforcement efforts, such as anti-gang units vetted by the US, that had been supported by Republicans and the Trump administration until now, said Mr Juan Gonzalez, a former deputy assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration.

Indeed, just a day before Mr Trump made the comments, the US signed a border security agreement with the three Central American governments intended to increase cooperation against human trafficking and organised crime.

The decision also caught Mexico off guard. The government there was already rattled by Mr Trump's threat to close parts or all of the border as early as this week in response to the immigration surge, and this was an added blow.

Advocates argue that stopping aid will only aggravate the root causes that drive migrants to leave the three countries, where a long history of corrupt governments and rigid inequities perpetuate deep poverty.

March is on track for 100,000 border apprehensions, Homeland Security officials said. This would be the highest monthly number in more than a decade.

Most of those people can remain in the US while their asylum claims are processed. This can take years because of ballooning immigration court backlogs.

NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2019, with the headline 'Dismay as Trump moves to cut aid to Central America'. Print Edition | Subscribe