From the wall (to be paid for by Mexico) along the southern border to the crackdown on “sanctuary cities” to repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, President Trump has advanced one harebrained scheme after another, each designed to stoke fear and resentment in his xenophobic base. His chronic scare-mongering, factual misrepresentations (e.g., on crime, wages) and contempt for basic economics have been regular features at his campaign-style rallies. His zero tolerance policy and the ensuing child separation policy were widely panned and, at least for now, have been suspended.
Nevertheless, with the midterms just two weeks away, he’s topped himself in the “Counterproductive and Unworkable Immigration Measures” category with a threat to cut off aid to countries already struggling to address the conditions that spurred thousands to head north.
President Trump vowed Monday to cut off or “substantially” reduce aid to three Latin American nations, voicing fresh frustration as a growing caravan of migrants that originated in Honduras continued to make its way toward the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S.,” Trump said in one of a string of morning tweets on the subject. “We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them.”
It was not immediately clear what payments Trump was referring to or the extent to which he could act without congressional approval.
In other words, Congress has the power of the purse; efforts to freeze funding would run into a political and legal firestorm. Moreover, the notion of turning destitute countries into more destitute countries with a grudge against the United States is only a “solution” to this problem in the same sense that pouring gasoline on a flames is a “solution” to a fire.
Instead, the logical approach — if problem-solving and not xenophobic hysteria is the goal — is to increase aid, work closely with Mexico and its southern neighbors and prepare for an orderly, humane way of addressing legitimate asylum claims. “In 2014, when tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors and families from Central America overwhelmed U.S. Border Patrol stations, Congress authorized a $750 million aid package to the Northern Triangle countries to boost economic growth and improve public safety to help create conditions that would prevent the exodus of migrants,” The Post recounted. “That hasn’t worked, but experts said the strategy would take up to a decade and require continued investment and oversight under a coordinated strategy that was upended when Trump succeeded President Barack Obama. In the fiscal year just ended, U.S. aid to Guatemala totaled $83.7 million, to Honduras $58.3 million and to El Salvador $50.7 million. All amounts were sharply lower than in the previous years.”
If Trump spooks the economies of these less-than-stable governments, the most likely result would be additional economic hardship, greater emigration and anti-Americanism.
As with the child separation debacle that flowed from Trump’s ill-conceived zero tolerance policy, slashing foreign aid to neighboring countries and picking fights with Mexico for nearly two years are evidence that Trump still possesses the uncanny knack of creating his own crises.
There is no easy solution to this problem, but the administration should abide by the political Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm.
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