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Addressing the Root of the Immigration Crisis

In 2019, over 850,000 people were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border while attempting to seek asylum in the United States. Around 71% of those apprehended were migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras – the Northern Triangle. Violence, poverty, and corruption drive much of this migration, and without stability, safety, and economic opportunity in their home countries, the people of the Northern Triangle will continue to flee.

Inconsistent U.S. foreign aid commitments have negatively impacted the Northern Triangle. In April 2019, President Trump froze $450 million in foreign assistance to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the region generally rely heavily on U.S. aid to continue with development and humanitarian assistance work. Since the funding cut, these organizations have had to end many programs which had been helping citizens.

In October 2019, President Trump resumed foreign aid to the Northern Triangle by committing $143 million. These funds will go towards creating economic opportunity, promoting rule of law and encouraging good governance; however, the funds are far lower than the $750 million originally promised in 2016 and the inconsistency in funds has potentially broken the bonds of trust that were built over years of aid. Therefore, the United States should increase aid to the Northern Triangle from $143 million back to $1.25 billion and should work with the governments of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to create ten-year development plans and re-establish trust. These development plans should include implementing programs that address the root challenges faced by citizens in each of these countries.

Imminent dangers in the Northern Triangle cause many of its citizens to migrate to safer places. All three countries in the Northern Triangle rank in the top ten for national homicide rates in 2020, with El Salvador and Honduras ranking one and three, respectively. Lack of economic opportunity is closely linked with violence, as gangs target students with death threats and forced recruitment. Lack of protections for human rights has led to widespread corruption threatening many citizens in the Northern Triangle. The LGBTQ community is especially vulnerable to threats and attacks. Gender-based violence is also highly prevalent with El Salvador and Honduras ranking in the top 5 highest rate of femicides in Latin America in 2018.

Previous U.S. policies have exacerbated the immigration crisis. In 1996, the U.S. Congress enacted the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. This act allowed for the deportation of immigrants for minor crimes such as shoplifting, speeding, and minor drug possession; leading to a sizeable increase in the deportations of Salvadorans, many of whom arrived in the United States attempting to leave the gang lifestyle. By being sent back to El Salvador, many of those deported had no choice but to rejoin gangs or risk facing violence from them. These deportation policies directly contributed to the growth of gangs, such as MS-13, which has worsened violence in the region. Additionally, in January of 2019, President Trump issued the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). The MPP requires migrants to wait in Mexico for U.S. immigration courts to review their asylum claims in the United States. However, the areas of Mexico that the migrants are sent to are extremely dangerous and many migrants face violence, sexual assault, and kidnapping.

Rather than try to stop immigrants at the border, the United States government should begin to work with the governments of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to address the root problems in the Northern Triangle. Each of the Northern Triangle governments should create ten-year development plans which should be re-evaluated in 2030. With yearly check-ins between the United States and the Northern Triangle governments, the development plans can be improved over time to reallocate funds or re-target programs, ensuring that citizens’ lives are being improved. Throughout the year, the United States ambassador to the countries should track progress and liaison between the Northern Triangle countries and the United States. At the end of the ten-year period, the United States government should work with the Northern Triangle governments to evaluate and determine the next steps.

These development plans will only be successful with cooperation and support from the Northern Triangle governments. Through careful negotiations and consistent support, the U.S. government can work to build up a strong foundation of trust between the Northern Triangle and the United States. It will be vital that the yearly evaluations and continuous progress reports via country ambassadors present an accurate depiction of the current state in the countries and the improvements or lack thereof resulting from the development plans. This accurate reporting and cooperation between the involved governments is critical to improving the lives of the citizens in the Northern Triangle. By mitigating corruption and violence and increasing economic opportunity within the Northern Triangle, the United States can help alleviate the immigration crisis and address immigration at its root.