CGD in the News

U.S. officials said aid to El Salvador helped slow migration. Now Trump is canceling it. (Washington Post)

April 01, 2019

From the article:

MEXICO CITY — Until last week, U.S. officials held up El Salvador as proof that foreign aid could help curb migration. The partnership between the two countries drew praise from diplomats, members of Congress and even America’s top border enforcement official.

Then President Trump announced that he was withdrawing economic assistance to the Central American country and its neighbors Guatemala and Honduras.

“They haven’t done a thing for us,” the president said Friday.

The claim baffled development officials and Salvadorans, who saw the country’s cooperation with the United States on security, civil society and economic development as a success story, inasmuch as it achieved the Trump administration’s goal of slowing the flow of migrants heading north to the United States.

In the past three years, both El Salvador’s homicide rate and migration flows have declined sharply. More than 72,000 Salvadorans were apprehended crossing the U.S. border in 2016. By 2018, the number had plummeted by more than half, to fewer than 32,000.


Analysts caution against attributing reductions in migration solely to U.S. aid. They say changes in migration are likely the result of a variety of causes, many of them beyond the control of governments.

“There has been no serious look at the historical relationship between development and migration that would convince anyone that economic development of any form across the developing world leads to sudden decreases in migration,” said Michael Clemens, co-director of migration at the Center for Global Development in Washington. “Demographic forces are so much ­stronger.”

Over the last decade, the Salvadoran population aged out of the so-called youth bulge, when a disproportionate number were ages 15 to 29 — the period when people are most likely to migrate.

Guatemala and Honduras are several years behind El Salvador demographically, which might help explain discrepancies in their migration rates.

Migration from the three nations of Central America’s Northern Triangle rose rapidly from 2012 to 2016, much of it undocumented minors fleeing growing gang violence.

According to the Center for Global Development, more than 8 percent of 17-year-olds from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras arrived at the U.S. border from 2011 through 2016. In a separate study linking violence to migration, it found that for every 10 additional murders in those three countries, six more children migrated to the United States.