Ideas to Action:

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CGD in the News

April 4, 2019

U.S. aid to Central America: What it does, why Trump cut it and why that may not end the migration crisis (USA Today)

From the article:

President Donald Trump's decision to cut $450 million in foreign aid to three Central American countries – collectively known as the Northern Triangle – will end dozens of projects designed to bolster security, the economy, education and judicial systems.

The goal of the programs is to improve conditions in the countries so citizens don't flee to the U.S. While Trump wants to cut the assistance, former officials say the programs are seeing results. For example:

In Honduras, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) officials have been working in local communities to reduce violence, contributing to a drop in the homicide rate every year between 2011 and 2018.

In El Salvador, where a struggling economy has pushed people to make the trek north, USAID helped small- and medium-sized businesses create more than 22,000 jobsbetween 2011 and 2016.

And in Guatemala, where the judicial system has been wrought with corruption and inefficiency, U.S. money has helped the government hire more judges and provided security for justice officials to protect them from cartels they are trying to prosecute. 

Trump said the aid cuts, and his threat to close the southern border entirely, will punish governments of those countries for failing to prevent people from fleeing.


Researchers at Vanderbilt's Latin American Public Opinion Project surveyed 29,000 people living in five Central American countries, and found that those living in neighborhoods with U.S.-funded projects saw less violence. In those communities, 51% reported fewer murders and extortion attempts, 35% said they no longer avoided walking through dangerous areas and 25% said they saw a drop in drug sales. 

"It's an extraordinarily rigorous study, and it's very persuasive," said Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, who was not part of the report but has studied the reasons young people flee Central America for the United States.

Rising migration

Trump sees things differently.

The combination of violence, poverty and food insecurity in Central America has driven record numbers of families to head north to seek U.S. asylum.

On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said rising migration showed that U.S. aid was not working.

Border Patrol agents apprehended more than 36,000 members of family units in February – a record – and border communities are being overwhelmed trying to care for them. That figure has steadily increased in recent months, with Border Patrol officials predicting a further rise for March.

"The president has determined that these programs have not effectively prevented illegal immigration from coming to the United States, and they’ve not achieved the desired results," Palladino said. "It's not succeeded in stemming this flow."

Still, Clemens said cutting off funding was misguided. He said the evidence, including the Vanderbilt study, shows that U.S. aid has led to gradual progress in living conditions in Central America.

"There is literally zero evidence that bludgeoning the (Central American) governments and long-time partners of those governments is somehow going to produce security in the region," he said.


April 1, 2019

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

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.”



April 1, 2019

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

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.



March 31, 2019

Trump Calls for Ending Aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras Over Migrants (Voice of America)

From the article:

The Trump administration on Sunday demanded that Mexico and three Central American countries curb the surge of thousands of undocumented migrants heading to the United States, noting that the homeland security chief for former President Barack Obama agrees there is an immigration crisis at the southern U.S. border.

"We need your help," acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in an interview on ABC News. He said Mexico needs to solidify its southern border with Guatemala to prevent the caravans from heading north through Mexico to the U.S. and that the three Central American counties need to curb migrants from leaving their countries.

He left open the distinct possibility that President Donald Trump would close the U.S. border with Mexico in the coming days, even as he says he intends to cut off about $500 million in U.S. aid to the three Northern Triangle countries.


'Reckless' policy?

Congressional action would be needed to cut off aid to the three countries. New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Trump's order a "reckless announcement" and urged Democrats and Republicans alike to reject it.

Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat and chairman of the Hispanic Caucus, warned in a statement released Saturday that cutting off aid will further destabilize the Northern Triangle countries.

"By cutting off desperately needed aid, the administration will deprive El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras of critical funds that help stabilize these countries by curbing migration push factors such as violence, gangs, poverty and insecurity. Ultimately, this short-sighted and flawed decision lays the groundwork for the humanitarian crisis at our border to escalate further,” he said.

Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at The Center for Global Development, says the administration’s strategy to shape migration through aid needs to be done right.

“If what the United States wants to do is prevent irregular child migration in a way that works and is cost-effective, it should not do what it has traditionally done — spend 10 times as much on border enforcement trying to keep child migrants out as it spends on security assistance to the region," he said. "In fact, smartly packaged security assistance" is the only thing that has been "shown to reduce violence effectively and cost effectively.”


December 7, 2018

The Nonbinding Migration Pact That Was Too Much for Trump (Slate)

From the article:
The objections to the pact are probably less about any of its specific clauses than about a generalized hostility toward the idea of taking in new migrants. “Stephen Miller pulled the United States out of the compact before there was even a draft text,” says Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development who studies migration. “The fact that the word migration is in the title was sufficient for him to consider this a violation of U.S. sovereignty.” He notes that the countries that have pulled out of the compact “offer nothing in counterpoint.”
Read the full article here.
November 28, 2018

Children Suffer Long-Term From Gang Violence in Central American (The Epoch Times)

By Brendon Fallon

From the article:

Violence from organized crime displaces tens of thousands of people a year in the Northern Triangle of Central America—El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras—and children are some of the biggest victims, suffering the effects long after being driven from their homes.

“Mara” street gangs, drug runners, and Mexican drug cartels, are the prime drivers of internal displacement—people forced to leave home but who remain in the country, according to a recent report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) (pdf).

For example, the report found that in El Salvador, criminal violence, has caused trauma, depression, and anxiety in children growing up there.

The number of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) entering the United States from the NTCA is directly linked to the level of violence in the region, according to a 2017 study by the Centre for Global Development (CGD) (pdf).

Read the full article here


November 26, 2018

EU message for migrants: You can live the Gambian dream – in Gambia (The Christian Science Monitor)

By Ryan Lenora Brown

From the article:

The Story was a magnet. The Story was a compass. And in Jalamang Danso’s hometown, The Story was dragging all of the young men away.

The Story went like this: If you wanted to make a better life for your family, you had to leave. You had to cross the desert. You had to cross the sea. You had to get to Europe.

“People will say, this country is dry. There is no promise here,” says Omar Jammeh, who leads a job-creation program here in Janjanbureh, an island in the Gambia River four hours drive west of the capital Banjul. “The only promise is in Europe.”

Almost everywhere, they point out – including in the European countries funding these new revenue projects in Africa – making poor people more prosperous has broadened their horizons, made them more mobile, and led to more people leaving, not less. It takes more than a generation to have the opposite effect, studies have shown.

That was true in places like Sweden and Italy in the late 19th century and in Latin America in the late 20th century. And it’s likely to be true in sub-Saharan Africa as well, says Michael Clemens, co-director of migration, displacement, and humanitarian policy at the Center for Global Development, a think tank in Washington D.C.

It “might be true in the long term that development will dissuade migration,” he says. “But what is understandably difficult for people to grasp is just how long the long term is.” In the meantime, he cautions, “as countries develop from poor to middle income … there will generally be more and more emigration.”

Read the full article here.


November 19, 2018

Trump’s Immigration Rhetoric, Policies Negatively Impacting US Economy (The Globe Post)

By Ivy Kaplan

From the article:

Experts believe anti-immigration rhetoric coming from the White House is now negatively impacting the economy as both high-skilled and low-skilled migrants are being discouraged from coming to the US.

Since President Donald Trump took office in 2016, political rhetoric coming from the White House has painted migrants as threats to the U.S. economy, claiming that they steal jobs, lower wages and act as an overall economic net drain on domestic resources.

While many of these claims remain baseless, experts believe they are now negatively impacting the economy as both high-skilled and low-skilled migrants are being discouraged from coming to the U.S.

“[That immigrants cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars] is a talking point that is provided to the president by people who don’t have any information on the subject,” Michael Clemens, co-director of migration, displacement, and humanitarian policy at the Center for Global Development said on November 2. “We get nowhere, and we certainly don’t get any useful innovation from starting with talking points based on disinformation.”   

Read the full article here

November 18, 2018

Sound Off (The Eagle Tribune)

By The Eagle Tribune

From the article:

No punishment

Here we go again. A bank robber gets probation for bank robbery. He was already on probation for bank robbery. Keep voting for liberals. Next their judges will be sending these people to Disney World.

Moral duty

President Donald Trump’s policy of cutting the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. not only hurts refugees, it hurts the U.S. Refugees make our country safer. Evidence from a study conducted by the New American Economy indicates refugees decrease our country’s crime rate. When we accept refugees, it helps our relationships with other countries. Refugees improve our economy. Research from the Center for Global Development indicates that after eight years in their new country refugees become net contributors to the tax base. In addition, refugees are not only great employees they also open businesses and become employers. We should offer asylum to refugees because they're in danger in their home countries. They are often fleeing war, persecution, starvation, economic collapse, violence and leaders who fail to protect them. We have a moral responsibility to help refugees in need.

Read the full article here.

November 14, 2018

The Fundamentals: Immigrants Power the Superpower (The Humanist)

By Sarah Henry 

From the article:

What is the role of migrants and refugees in the American economy? A Brookings Institution panel held four days before the midterms aimed to answer that question against a backdrop of election-tinged rhetoric around President Trump’s longed-for border wall and a misinformation campaign surrounding the group of Central American asylum-seekers making their way through Mexico. The conclusion was relatively simple, given the complex nature of the ongoing national conversation. Migrants and refugees boost the American economy, and we couldn’t be a world superpower without them.

In many so-called high-talent cities or regions, the San Francisco Bay Area for example, the labor force is divided into two tiers. One is made up of “fundamental work”—work that’s necessary for other kinds of work to continue—including janitorial or custodial work, construction, food service, and bus transportation through Silicon Valley tech campuses. In the other tier are highly educated and highly paid workers, like the engineers and developers stretching out across those bus seats. As panelist Michael Clemens, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, put it, “American master chefs literally do not have a job without dishwashers. American cardiac surgeons literally have no job without the people keeping the hospital clean and sanitary.”

Read the full article here.