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Trump Laid a Trap on Immigration—And Only Beto Sees It (The Atlantic)

April 1, 2019

From the article:

Beto O’Rourke isn’t known for his wonkish heft. But in his formal announcement for president on Sunday, the former Texas congressman offered one of the most important policy proposals of the nascent presidential campaign: He argued that to solve America’s problems at the border, America’s leaders must “help people in Central America where they are.” In so doing, he began laying a foundation to effectively rebut Donald Trump on his signature issue: immigration.

Every major Democratic presidential candidate decries Trump’s actions at the border. In her announcement speech, Kamala Harris called his policy of putting “children in cages” a “human-rights abuse,” and his proposed border wall a “medieval vanity project.” In hers, Elizabeth Warren said that under Trump, America’s “immigration system … lacks a conscience.” Amy Klobuchar used her announcement to demand “comprehensive immigration reform.” In his, Bernie Sanders called for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the United States and “a humane border policy for those who seek asylum.”

O’Rourke’s competitors are right to demand a fairer and more humane system for evaluating asylum claims. But an improved asylum system won’t reduce the number of people fleeing violence in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—Central America’s “Northern Triangle.” To the contrary, the better chance migrants have of gaining asylum, the more likely they are to seek it.


American aid can reduce this violence and the migration it creates. In 2014, the Latin American Public Opinion Project at Vanderbilt University released a study of a U.S. Agency for International Development program aimed at improving public safety in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama. USAID funded job training and community policing, paid to install streetlights and remove graffiti, and according to the Vanderbilt researchers, “51 percent fewer surveyed residents reported being aware of murders in their neighborhoods” than “we would expect to see without USAID interventions.”

Michael Clemens, co-director of migration, displacement, and humanitarian policy at the Center for Global Development, then analyzed U.S. government statistics on the 179,000 unaccompanied children from the Northern Triangle picked up by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents over a six-year period. Comparing murder rates in a given Salvadoran, Honduran, or Guatemalan town with the rates of apprehended migrant children, he found that “a decline of 10 homicides in an average municipality of this region caused six fewer children from there to be apprehended at the U.S. border.” His ultimate conclusion: “Projects financed by U.S. aid have been shown to reduce violence in the region, and that violence is a major driver of illegal migration.”



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Photo of Michael Clemens
Co-Director of Migration, Displacement, and Humanitarian Policy and Senior Fellow