President Trump says he wants to cut immigration to the U.S., particularly the flow of migrants seeking asylum at the southern border. But his latest plan to cut foreign aid, announced with a hasty explanation this weekend, will likely only make the problem worse.
Speaking to reporters during a trip to Florida , Trump explained, “I’ve ended payments to Guatemala, to Honduras and El Salvador. No more money is going there anymore.” He added, “We were giving them $500 million….We were paying them tremendous amounts of money, and we’re not paying them anymore because they haven’t done a thing for us.”
The State Department followed up Trump’s words with an announcement on Saturday, that "At the Secretary's instruction, we are carrying out the President's direction and ending FY 2017 and FY 2018 foreign assistance programs for the Northern Triangle." That includes around $500 million already appropriated for 2018 as well as unspent funds from the year before, that would otherwise have gone to the region which includes El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
On paper that might sound fine. As Trump put it, why spend money if we aren’t getting what we want?
But despite Trump’s characterization, that money isn’t a payment to directly keep migrants from leaving. Rather, it funds programs to improve these countries' violence, poverty, and weak economies — the root causes of their mass emigration crisis.
Unless substantial progress is made to boost education, economic opportunities ,and to cut violence, migrants will continue to see leaving home and trying their luck at the border as a better option than staying in Central America.
Since these are long-term social fixes, it makes sense that today migrants might still be leaving even if, in the long term, the investments are paying off. Investment in education and jobs won’t stop people leaving tomorrow but it will mean that the kids in school today will have more opportunities (and less reason to leave) in a decade's time.
By cutting funds for these long term projects, not only is the Trump administration breaking good-faith relationships with these countries, but it's also setting the U.S. up for a greater systemic immigration problem in the future. If Trump wants to limit an influx of migrants, this is certainly not the way to do it.