MEHLMAN: Aid To Central America Isn’t Making Things Better For Central Americans

REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

Ira Mehlman Media Director, FAIR
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President Trump made the right move recently by announcing his intention to curtail aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — the three countries primarily responsible for the flood of migrants arriving at our southern border. In typical Trump fashion, he managed to bollox the messaging on what is otherwise a sound policy decision by misstating the justification for withholding an estimated $500 million in aid.

“We were paying them tremendous amounts of money, and we’re not paying them anymore because they haven’t done a thing for us,” Trump said. In fact, withholding “tremendous amounts of money” to those governments is warranted because they have done little, if anything, to make life better for large segments of their populations — which is the biggest reason why their people are turning up at our doorstep at a rate of about 100,000 per month.

The president’s political opponents — whose default position on any problem is to throw money at it — were naturally aghast. “Trump’s latest decision to cut off aid to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala does nothing to address the root causes of the immigration flow from these countries and will only exacerbate issues of gang- and drug-related violence in these countries,” stated a press release by the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The DNC further complained that revoking aid to those countries “will only make the situation worse.”

That prediction (like all predictions) may or may not be true. But what is empirically true is that the half a billion dollars we are giving them each year isn’t making the situation any better, and that is the true test of whether aid should continue. As per the claims of the people arriving in caravans, or on their own, notwithstanding our foreign aid, gang- and drug-related violence remains endemic, jobs are scarce, and even if one can be found, it pays barely enough to put food on the table.

If the money we are sending to Central America isn’t making the vast majority of people safer or more prosperous, it is reasonable to ask what is it doing? The likely answer is that it has been making the ruling oligarchs in these countries even wealthier. “[C]orruption plagues the Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — where collusion between big businesses, political leaders and criminal groups is rampant,” notes a recent investigative report in OZY magazine.

Without foreign aid being conditioned on meeting specific benchmarks, what incentive is there for these regimes to clean up corruption? Moreover, the continued exodus of people from those countries pays dividends in other ways for ruling elite. Migration to the United States pumps billions of additional dollars back into those countries in the form of remittances. In 2018, remittances from expatriates accounted for 22 percent of El Salvador’s GDP, 20 percent of Honduras’s, and 12 percent of Guatemala’s. The more people they can send to the United States, the larger the cash flow back.

Trump’s move to cut off aid to the three Central American nations responsible for the lion’s share of the migration crisis is a long overdue demand for accountability. The migrants are the symptom of the problem and, as everyone knows, you cannot solve a problem merely by treating the symptoms. The root cause of the humanitarian crisis that we are facing is widespread corruption in those societies that has led to grinding poverty and the rise of criminal gangs.

While we need to do more on our end, like securing our borders, making it more difficult for people to abuse our political asylum laws, and ending catch-and-release policies, we also need to act on other fronts. Conditioning foreign aid on political, economic, and social reforms in the sending countries is a good start. To the degree that we are able, we can start to make life uncomfortable for those who have been looting the wealth of the countries they control by going after their ill-gotten personal assets, or by restricting their ability to move about by denying them visas.

What we should not do is enable the people who are primarily responsible for the endless flows of migrants to continue doing what they’ve been doing, while we struggle to cope with the humanitarian fallout. Resettling large segments of the populations of these failed states will not help them succeed. It will only allow the oligarchs who run them to evade responsibility for their corruption and failures.

Ira Mehlman is media director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a nonprofit group that advocates for legal immigration.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.