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U.S. Foreign Assistance Initiatives Look To Reduce Central American Migration

June 22, 2021 by Daniel Mollenkamp
A market in Guatemala. (Wikimedia Commons)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Agency for International Development unveiled nearly $175 million in initiatives for El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala related to the Biden administration’s strategy for reducing the inflow of migrants to the southern border.  

The initiatives were connected to Administrator Samantha Power’s tour of those countries last week, where she embodied the administration’s efforts to solve “the governance, economic, and security challenges that are driving Central Americans to migrate north,” according to a statement from the agency.

The commitments are part of the Biden administration’s approach to addressing the inflow of Central American refugees at the U.S.’ southern border, which is projected to grow now that coronavirus-related border restrictions are easing. 

According to a fact sheet from the Congressional Research Service, more than 300,000 people per year fled the Northern Triangle region of Central America between 2014 and 2020. Most of those migrants were U.S. bound, though the specific number varied by year.

Coronavirus disrupted the rates of migration as many would-be migrants postponed their plans, but they indicated that they intended to make the journey once countries lifted cross-border travel restrictions, according to the CRS report. So far, in 2021, migration rates have picked back up.

The newly announced initiatives are a continuation of the larger Biden administration strategy to address what it describes as the “root causes” of migration from Central America, which encompasses violence, corruption, poverty, and climate change.

Those new USAID initiatives include $12 million for economic recovery from coronavirus of small businesses in El Salvador, as well as $115 million to address the causes of migration from that country. The $115 million included $50 million to address violence in the country, $35 million for gender violence specifically and another $30 million for educational and employment opportunities.

USAID has also pledged to send $24 million to Honduras to support their economy and reinforce democracy in the country as part of this umbrella of commitments. Of that sum, $10.1 million will go to youth employment, which makes workforce development services available to about 500,000 youths over the next five years, according to a written statement from USAID. Another $10.1 million will go toward strengthening the country’s agricultural market, with $3.7 million for civic engagement and pro-democracy programs.

Included in the initiatives was also a region-wide $5 million “challenge” for gender equity, which will begin in the fall. A written comment from USAID said that the money would promote the recruitment, retention, and promotion of women to key positions in these societies and will specifically “close the gender gap in technology and innovation by building a more inclusive digital ecosystem.”

As part of the larger strategy, as President Biden said in an executive order from February, the administration has also tried to “facilitate access to protection and other lawful immigration avenues, in both the United States and partner countries, as close to migrants’ homes as possible.” 

According to analysis from the Council on Foreign Relations, the Biden approach has had two primary methods. One, to reinstall policies it believes were starting to show success toward the end of the Obama administration, and two, undo policies it believes are unhelpful from the Trump administration.

The administration has also expanded access to the asylum system and stopped “safe third country agreements,” which the Trump administration had established to move asylum-seekers out of the U.S. and into El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The Biden administration has also asked for increases in foreign assistance funding to Central America in its budget for 2022.

Power was not the only U.S. official to visit the region this month. In her first trip abroad since entering office, Vice-President Kamala Harris visited Guatemala earlier in the month, where she asked potential Guatemalan migrants not to try entering the U.S. illegally, adding that it is dangerous and they would be turned back at the border, according to BBC reporting.

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