President Trump announced over the weekend that his
administration will cut aid to three countries that White House staffers said
were complicit in sending illegal immigrants to the United States. While the
move will certainly be popular among the president’s base, it may prove to have
an adverse effect on the problem at the southern border.
Despite a now-infamous chyron
News announcing that the Trump Administration was cutting aid to “three
Mexican countries,” the cuts were actually applied to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras but not to Mexico. The three Latin
American countries are the source of many of the refugees that have joined
migrant caravans seeking to enter the United States. As with many things Trump,
there is both good and bad to what we know about the decision.
As a fiscal conservative who believes that the mounting
national debt is the worst crisis that we currently face, I applaud almost any
curbs to federal spending. The truth, however, is that these cuts are insignificant.
Street Journal notes that the Trump Administration has not specified how much
money would be cut, but points out that aid to the three countries amounts to between
$500 million and $750 million each. In contrast, several countries in the
Middle East and Africa receive more than $1 billion each and the combined amount of aid to all three nations is less than what President
Trump has proposed to spend on his wall project.
Per the Journal, the State Department announced on Saturday
that it had ended funding for the countries that was appropriated in fiscal
years 2017 and 2018, but there was no mention of fiscal year 2019. The White House requested less than $400 million for
the three countries in its 2020 budget proposal and pledged $5.8 billion in aid
and public and private investment to strengthen economic development in Central
America last December. The reversal leaves open the question of whether the
policy decision was made on the spur of the moment by President Trump.
The Journal also notes that the White House did not explain
how President Trump had the authority to withhold foreign aid payments that
were lawfully appropriated by Congress. The Congressional
Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 limited the president’s
authority to impound appropriated funds by requiring that Congress vote to
rescind funds that the president does not want to spend. If both the House and
Senate do not vote to rescind the money within 45 days of continuous session,
the money must be made available to the program for which it was appropriated. Historically,
Congress has ignored most rescission requests and the Democrats in the House
are unlikely to agree to the president’s request.
The president’s action also does not take into account the
Law of Unintended Consequences. Aid to Central America was increased by the
Obama Administration after a surge of unaccompanied minors arrived at the
southern border in 2014. At the time, the Obama Administration requested $1
billion for a variety of programs that included anti-poverty, security and
anti-crime, and anti-corruption initiatives. As US aid increased, the number of illegal
border crossings from Latin America fell to its lowest level in decades,
reaching a 45-year
low in 2017.
Since 2016, the Trump Administration has reduced aid to
Central America and the result has been a corresponding increase in illegal
immigration. After several court rulings that make it more difficult to detain asylum-seekers
and illegal immigrants with children, the number of arrests of family members
on the southern border reached a record
high in September 2018. In February, the total number of arrests reached a 10-year
monthly high. Although the number of illegal border crossings remains low
by historical standards, the increases in recent months may be part of a trend toward more illegal immigration under
The Trump Administration is caught in cross-purposes with the
cuts to foreign aid. While the cuts give President Trump the opportunity to
look tough, they will likely exacerbate the problem of illegal immigration. It stands
to reason that when money given to poverty-stricken countries for security and
economic development is removed that their economic and political stability
will get worse. This will create more refugees seeking to both escape political
violence and find economic opportunity by immigrating to the United States.
While I am in favor of across-the-board cuts to the federal
budget in general, if President Trump
wants to slow illegal immigration, foreign aid to Central America seems to be
money that has been well spent in terms of slowing the flow of migrants. Eliminating
the aid may trigger a new surge of migrant caravans and contribute to what President
Trump already considers to be a national emergency on the southern border.