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Congress should pass Central American aid package

While the flow of Central American children arriving unaccompanied at the southern border has receded, the need for a long-term response in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras remains as critical as ever. It is in America’s best interest to make sure the so-called Northern Triangle countries prosper: The more economic success comes to the region, the less incentive there is to migrate. That’s why Vice President Joe Biden’s $1 billion aid proposal is a step in the right direction to help these Central American countries curb the flow of undocumented migrants. As debate begins in Washington on this package, Congress needs to consider which is better: attacking the problem at its source, or dealing with it later on our border. Biden’s Central American aid package deserves swift approval by Congress.

The initiative, dubbed the Alliance for Prosperity and included in President Obama’s proposed budget, represents almost three times more funding than what the region typically gets in aid from the United States. It’s an investment worth making. “Compared to what we give globally, to less strategically important places given the fact that migration issues come from these countries, it’s a fantastic step forward,” notes Jason Marczak, a Latin America expert at the Atlantic Council. The plan takes a comprehensive approach and focuses on development assistance with three major objectives: to provide greater economic opportunities to Central Americans, to strengthen public institutions and governance in the region, and to ensure the safety of its citizens.


In other words, the aid initiative doesn’t just focus on supporting police and military, like other big Latin American aid packages such as Plan Colombia and the Merida Initiative. This plan intends to tackle conditions on the ground, including issues like community-based violence, the lack of rule of law, and the high levels of inequality and poverty.

As the plan develops, it’s critical that job creation and education be prioritized, targeting Central American youth. Consider this: The number of young people in these three countries is exceptionally high, with the proportion of those under age 25 either at or exceeding 50 percent. Then there’s the systemic criminal impunity that’s grown like a cancer. In Honduras, the most violent country in the world by several accounts, more than 96 percent of homicides go unsolved.

Although it is encouraging that the governments of Northern Triangle countries have made a strong commitment to the initiative, skeptics point out that throwing money at the problem may yield minimal results, at best. That’s why clear metrics need to be established. Adriana Beltran, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America, outlines what some of these indicators of success could look like: “Are there mechanisms in each country where citizens can place complaints of abuses committed by the police? Have these countries established functional and well-funded witness protection programs? How many criminal investigators exist in each country?”


Now that the influx of unaccompanied minors at the border has abated, lawmakers may not feel a sense of urgency. But it is precisely at this point where a long-term solution should be launched that addresses the underlying structural problems that caused the flood of immigrants in the first place.