More Aid Won’t Stop Central America’s Migrant Crisis

What U.S. Aid Can and Can’t Achieve in the Northern Triangle

A group of migrants from Honduras en route to the United States in Frontera Hidalgo, Mexico, April 2019 José Cabezas / REUTERS

Last month set a dubious record for U.S. immigration policy. More than 100,000 asylum-seekers reached the country’s southern border in March—the highest number in more than a decade. Detention areas are overflowing, and stories of children being separated from their parents at the border have left an unfortunate mark on American political discourse. As in previous years, most migrants set out from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras—also known as the Northern Triangle—to escape gang violence, poverty, and lack of opportunity.

Instead of addressing the root causes of the desperation that drives families and unaccompanied minors to embark on this risky journey, the Trump administration has railed against illegal immigration and drugs while slashing aid to the region. In his first two years, President Donald Trump has cut U.S. funding to Central America, most of which is destined for the Northern Triangle, from nearly $700 million to roughly $530 million. For the coming fiscal year, he is trying to bring this number down to $400 million—less than five percent of what his government has requested to build the border wall with Mexico. None of the $5.8 billion pledged last December by the State Department “to promote institutional reform and development in the Northern Triangle” has ever materialized.

Critics have rightly denounced the cuts as shortsighted and counterproductive. But even with a more accommodating occupant in the White House, it would be unrealistic to expect Congress to provide enough aid to solve the ills of the Northern Triangle. What is needed is a strategy that addresses the origins of the crisis and can be sustained by the region after Washington’s attention turns elsewhere, as it inevitably will.

The good news is that promising solutions already exist. They include popular but incipient domestic initiatives to strengthen porous tax regimes, combat corruption, and use worker remittances from abroad to spur economic growth at home. Washington should use its aid to expand these programs.


The crisis afflicting the Northern Triangle runs deeper than

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