Trump Cuts Aid to Three Unhelpful Central American Countries

Payback for not lifting a finger to stop the migrant caravans.

As the crisis at our nation’s southern border with Mexico worsens due to the unremitting flow of migrants from Central America, President Trump decided late last week to cut aid to the three Central American countries that were contributing most to the problem - El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The cut off affects nearly $500 million of allotted but unspent aid for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 and millions more for the previous year. President Trump finally decided to take this drastic step, after having issued warnings in the past. He charged that these three countries in particular – known collectively as the Northern Triangle - were receiving "tremendous amounts of money" from the United States without doing anything to stop the increasing numbers of caravans from proceeding north towards the United States. "No money goes there anymore...we're not paying them any more because they haven't done a thing for us," the president said on Friday.

Some Democrats are crying foul, claiming that Congress must approve an end to the funding. Senator Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who is the ranking Democrat on the Republican-chaired Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said that President Trump’s decision was "irresponsible" and “reckless.” Senator Menendez claimed this action “shows the Administration still does not understand that the United States cuts foreign aid to Central America at our own peril." He added that “President Trump reportedly wants to make matters worse by blocking resources for programs that get to the root causes of this humanitarian crisis.”

A Congressional delegation visiting El Salvador, including Representatives Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs (D-NY) and Jerrold Nadler, Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary (D-NY), issued a joint letter condemning President Trump’s decision. “As we visit El Salvador evaluating the importance of U.S. assistance to Central America to address the root causes of family and child migration,” they stated in their letter, “we are extremely disappointed to learn that President Trump intends to cut off aid to the region. The President’s approach is entirely counterproductive. It will only result in more children and families being forced to make the dangerous journey north to the U.S.-Mexico border. We will work with our colleagues in Congress to do everything in our power to push back on the President’s misguided approach to Central America.”

The open border liberals’ answer to the Central American migration surge is to throw more good money after bad at the hopelessly corrupt and dysfunctional governments running the three countries and hope vainly for the best. Vicki Gass, senior policy adviser for Central America and Mexico at the Oxfam charity, is representative of the misguided view that continuing foreign aid at present levels to these countries is imperative. “Cutting foreign aid to Central America is the absolute last thing the Trump administration should do right now,” she said. “Not only is it morally wrong, it also counters efforts to address the root causes behind migration.”

The problem with the open border liberals’ desire to keep the Central American money pit in business is that we have tried that approach and it has utterly failed. Just consider what happened after the U.S. began ratcheting up the amounts of foreign aid several years ago. Beginning in 2014, unaccompanied children from Central America arrived at the southern border in large numbers. Former President Obama called the influx of unaccompanied immigrant children entering the United States during his second term a “humanitarian crisis.” He believed that more foreign aid to address the Central American countries’ economic and social problems would ameliorate the problem and he embarked on a program to do just that.

The Obama administration more than doubled the amount of U.S. foreign aid to Guatemala, for example, from $138 million in FY2015 to $297 million in FY2016.  The amount declined slightly to $257 million in FY2017 that began during the Obama administration's last year in office, but this  amount was still considerably above the 2015 level.

U.S. foreign aid to El Salvador increased from $84 million in FY2014 to $332 million in FY2015. It went down to $75 million during FY2016 and then rose again to $118 million in FY2017. For Honduras, U.S. foreign aid increased from $96 million in FY2014 to $134 million in FY2015. After declining slightly to $127 million in FY2016 the amount rose again to $181 million in FY2017.

What happened in the wake of the overall increases in aid during the latter part of the Obama administration? Total disaster. The surge in the numbers today of apprehensions of both unaccompanied alien children and family units with children from Central America are making the numbers five years ago during the Obama administration pale by comparison.

“The system is in free-fall,” Kirstjen Nielsen, the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) Secretary, said on Friday. “D.H.S. is doing everything possible to respond to a growing humanitarian catastrophe while also securing our borders, but we have reached peak capacity and are now forced to pull from other missions to respond to the emergency.”

March may see 100,000 border apprehensions overall, which would represent the highest monthly rate in more than a decade. More than 1,200 unaccompanied children and 6,600 migrant families are reported to be presently in D.H.S.’s custody. Migrants are being released and allowed to pour into city streets. In short, the system is overwhelmed and in imminent danger of breaking down.

Even Jeh Johnson, who served as former President Obama's Department of Homeland Security Secretary, admitted last week that "we are truly in a crisis." Nevertheless, Democrat politicians refuse to admit what is staring them in the face. They think that keeping the gravy train running to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras will fix the problem. The data prove them wrong, however. Despite the significant increases in aid intended to address economic and social issues in those countries, the migration surge has swelled in numbers to reach today’s catastrophic levels.

The number of unaccompanied migrant children from Guatemala apprehended at the U.S. border in FY 2014 was 17,057, according to a Congressional Research Services report that was updated on March 20, 2019. The number rose to 18,913 in FY2016; fell to 14,827 in FY2017; and rose again to 22,327 in FY2018 – nearly 30 percent higher than what Obama had had called a humanitarian crisis. So far through February of FY2019, the number of apprehended unaccompanied alien minors is 12,576. Family unit apprehensions are also increasing. They rose from 24,657 Guatemalan family units apprehended in FY2017 to 50,401 in FY2018, and then to an astonishing 66,470 through February of FY2019. One does not have guess where much of the money that the U.S. sent to Guatemala in FY2016 and thereafter really went. It wasn’t to solve the so-called “root causes” so that migration would finally slow.

While apprehensions of El Salvadoran unaccompanied alien minors and family units declined between FY2016 and FY2018, the trend line appears to be moving up again so far in FY2019, particularly regarding apprehended family units. Honduras has shown increases in the numbers both of apprehended unaccompanied alien minors between FY2016 and FY2018 as well as the number of family unit apprehensions. Like Guatemala, there is an alarming upsurge in family unit apprehensions so far through February of FY2019 from FY2018 - 51,669 for just 5 months in FY2019 compared to 39,439 for all of FY2018.

There are fundamental governance issues in all three countries that no amount of money alone can fix. According to the 2019 Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom, for example, the countries scored particularly low on judicial effectiveness and governmental integrity. Despite some efforts by Congress to condition a portion of foreign aid on how well these countries tackled their corruption problems, nothing has changed. Out of 180 countries surveyed by Transparency International in its 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index, El Salvador ranked 102. Honduras ranked 132, and Guatemala took up the rear at 144. The three countries’ scores in fact declined slightly between 2016 and 2018.

In short, all the increased U.S. foreign aid sent to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras since the FY2015-2016 period accomplished nothing positive. Loophole-ridden U.S. immigration laws contain amnesty provisions serving as a huge magnet for more and more Central American migrants to come north looking for better economic opportunities while falsely claiming the need for asylum. The open border Democrats in Congress refuse to do anything to close the loopholes. Instead, they want to see more migrants entering the U.S. to eventually become reliable voters. And they engage in virtue signaling in the meantime by insisting on continuing the financial largesse to the three corrupt Central American countries.

President Trump’s tough love approach is the right answer. The three Central American countries are doing nothing to stop the caravans. They are also not using the large amounts of monies they have received in recent years to address the so-called “root causes” that are supposedly driving the mass migration from their countries to the United States. Corruption continues. There is no reason to keep the gravy train running until these countries step up to meet their responsibilities, reform their governance practices and block more caravans from heading north.

President Trump has threatened to take even more drastic action. The president’s next step may be to close the border with Mexico if Mexico does not do more to stop the masses of migrants from traversing Mexico unimpeded to reach our southern border. Desperate times do indeed call for desperate measures.

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