Fiorella Beccaglia Opinion Editor
By threatening to close the border with Mexico and moving to cut off aid to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, President Trump is effectively shooting America in the foot, to paraphrase Adriana Beltrán, the director of citizen security at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights research group that tracks aid closely.
Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of U.S Customs and Border Protection (C.B.P.), noted last week that the recent surge of migrant families with children seeking asylum was stretching the agency to a “breaking point.” This was made alarmingly clear as photos of hundreds of migrants, including many children spread quickly across the internet.
C.B.P. and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) have claimed to be taking steps to wrestle with the increased flow of immigrants, a vast majority of them are families with children seeking asylum, not drug traffickers. In an attempt to ease the problem, Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, signed a compact with officials from the El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala last Thursday, March 28, 2019, to help curb the complex drivers of irregular migration—including crime and gang violence in the region. Mr. Trump, less than a day later, announced he was ending aid to those countries. His administration notified Congress late Friday that it intends to reprogram $450 million in aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and has already sent instructions to embassies in the region.
Trump has insisted that the real problem is Mexico and claims they are doing nothing to help stop the flow of migrants. That is despite the clear efforts by Mexican diplomats to intercept migrant groups, providing temporary visas to asylum seekers and allowing some to remain in Mexico while they await court hearings in the U.S.
As with the president’s beloved wall, which would do little to discourage illegal migration, let alone drug trafficking, no one with a working knowledge of immigration policy believes that closing the border is a solution to the recent rush of immigrants. The impact on trade and the economic disruption for border communities would be catastrophic. Plus, closing the border won’t stop migrants from stepping onto U.S. soil and claiming asylum, as many of the groups surrendering to border agents in recent months.
What would help much more is action to address the root causes of the surge in border crossings, from reforming federal immigration laws to supplying aid to improve economic conditions in Central America. And most importantly, Congress needs to come up with a more flexible legal framework to address the glut of asylum claims and more funding for immigration courts to process them. This moment calls for proactive measures—not hurtful policies that are destined to backfire and keep harming our relations to the rest of America.