Originally published by The Hill
President Donald Trump has not been able to stop a surge in illegal border crossings, which, according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan, is at the breaking point. In February, more than 76,000 migrants were detained, the highest number in 12 years. Most of them were asylum-seeking migrants from Central America.
The State Department told CNN on Saturday that the United States is cutting off aid to those countries.
Apparently, Trump thinks he can gain some control over the situation by pressuring the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (known as the Northern Triangle) into assisting him with his efforts to secure the border.
I think he is mistaken. The amount of the aid he cut off is much smaller than the amount of money migrants from the Northern Triangle are sending home from jobs in America.
In 2017, migrants from the Northern Triangle who work in the United States sent billions of dollars home to their families. These remittancestotaled more than $5 billion for El Salvador, $4 billion for Honduras, and $8.68 billion for Guatemala. This was 20.1 percent of the Gross Domestic Product in El Salvador, 17.4 percent in Honduras, and 11.5 percent in Guatemala.
What is the aid supposed to do?
In 2016, the United States gave $131.2 million in aid to Guatemala, $98.3 million to Honduras, and $67.9 million to El Salvador, and Congress has appropriated about $2.1 billion for the program since then.
- 41 percent of the funds were used to encourage economic progress and social stability;
- 32 percent supported law enforcement and strengthened other justice sector institutions;
- 19 percent supported crime and violence-prevention programs, efforts to promote economic reform, and other development projects; and
- 5 percent provided equipment and training for regional militaries.
Congress placed strict conditions on receiving this assistance.
Twenty-five percent was withheld until the Secretary of State certified that the governments were informing their citizens of the dangers of irregular migration, combating human smuggling and trafficking, improving border security, and cooperating with the United States to repatriate their citizens who do not qualify for asylum.
Another 50 percent was withheld until the Secretary certified that the governments were addressing 12 other concerns, such as countering gangs and organized crime and supporting programs to reduce poverty.
U.S. aid therefore is but a small fraction of the remittances flowing into the countries.
Cutting off aid to the Northern Triangle will only make the situation worse if the aid was significantly improving conditions there in the first place.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the program had difficult, long term objectivesand little more than a year to implement them. Also, people who benefit from the status quo undermined efforts to achieve those objectives.
Cutting aid would seem to have limited potential in solving the migration crisis. Trump does have alternatives that are more likely to be effective.
Appeal the Flores Settlement Agreement to the Supreme Court
The Flores Settlement Agreement prevents Trump from detaining children apprehended while making an illegal crossing into the United States for more than 20 days, and because all Hell broke loose when he separated children from their parents, entire families now have to be released.
It will never be possible to secure the border so long as aliens who have a child with them when they are apprehended after making an illegal crossing have to be permitted to continue their journey to the interior of the United States.
Process persecution claims outside of the U.S.
Trump could establish an expanded version of that program with UNHCR which would process persecution claims from Northern Triangle asylum-seekers at safe locations outside of the United States.
Eliminate the exploitation magnet
Employment is a magnet that draws migrants to the United States from economically disadvantaged countries. Congress tried to eliminate this magnet by establishing sanctions for hiring aliens who are not authorized to work here in the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. It has not been possible to implement the program effectively.
Another, similar magnet might be easier to eliminate. Unscrupulous employers are drawn to undocumented immigrant workers because they can be exploited easily.
The Department of Labor (DOL) sanctions employers for exploiting employees without regard to their immigration status. For instance, DOL enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires a minimum wage and overtime pay.
With additional funding, DOL could mount a large-scale, nationwide campaign to stop the exploitation of employees in industries known to hire large numbers of undocumented immigrants.
If Trump persists in cutting aid to the Northern Triangle instead of employing measures more likely to be successful, he will lose what may be his last opportunity to deal effectively with the border security crisis before it is too late.
Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an executive branch immigration law expert for three years. He subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years.