Politics To Solve Border Crisis, Counter China in Northern Triangle
These are the White House staffers working with Kamala Harris on curbing Central American migration
Vice President Kamala Harris has begun to assemble a team to assist her in efforts to stem the migration surge from several Central American countries into the U.S., which has created one of the Biden administration’s first major challenges. President Biden last month assigned Harris to take on this issue, similar to the role he played on migration in the Obama administration. Harris’s task, according to a member of her team, is to lead diplomatic efforts to “engage Mexico and the Northern Triangle to address the root causes of migration and to oversee the flow and use of U.S. aid,” as opposed to more granular immigration-focused issues surrounding the U.S.-Mexico border.
For the third time in the past 10 years, migration flows from Central America to the United States have reached a crisis point at the southwest U.S. border. Most of these migrants are from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. These countries each face significant governance issues, resulting in violence and stunted economic opportunities that lead many of their citizens to make the perilous journey north.
As the Biden administration and Congress work to address the root causes of this crisis, they must also tackle its strategic implications. China’s growing activity in the Western Hemisphere threatens to undermine U.S. influence in the region and exacerbate the governance challenges facing the Northern Triangle. By bolstering economic ties in the region and focusing on improving governance, the U.S. can address the key drivers of the migration crisis, push back on the growing malign influence of the Chinese Communist Party in our hemisphere, and improve American economic competitiveness by creating alternative supply chains beyond the reach of Beijing.
Biden's border crisis is the worst since 2006, blowing Trump's out of the water
The last time the border crisis reached this apex, the nation was still tuning into Desperate Housewives and House while calling each other from flip phones, and Barack Obama was just a junior senator from Illinois, and Donald Trump was just a guy on television. The only difference: The plurality of migrants back in 2006 flooding our southern border came straight from Mexico. Today, nearly half of the more than 172,000 migrants trying to cross the border, as reported by Border Patrol for the month of March, came from Northern Triangle nations.
The economic challenges facing the Northern Triangle and the rest of Latin America have provided an opportunity for China to expand its influence in the region at the expense of U.S. interests. Beijing’s recent no-questions-asked investments in the region have primarily focused on resource extraction and infrastructure projects, which have undermined progress many countries have made to diversify their economies while consistently prioritizing skilled jobs for Chinese workers. Furthermore, Chinese investments have provided ample opportunities for official corruption at the highest levels. In April 2019, the U.S. sanctioned Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his family for using a canal project backed by Chinese investment to launder money.
Border czar Roberta Jacobson to step down from post
Roberta Jacobson, the White House's southern border czar, will step down from her post at the end of the month in a surprising move but one the administration said was pre-planned. Jacobson, who was U.S. ambassador to Mexico under former President Obama, agreed to join the administration as a border coordinator for President Biden's first 100 days in office, a period ending later this month. "Ambassador Roberta Jacobson's leadership in servingJacobson, who was U.S. ambassador to Mexico under former President Obama, agreed to join the administration as a border coordinator for President Biden's first 100 days in office, a period ending later this month.
In the Northern Triangle, China is already making inroads. El Salvador switched its Chinese diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China in 2018, and President Nayib Bukele signed memorandums of understanding for $500 million in potential Chinese development projects during a 2019 state visit to Beijing. While Guatemala and Honduras still recognize Taiwan, China continues to push countries across the region to abandon the island with promises of significant investment.
To combat China’s investment and influence campaign, the U.S. should double down on its economic commitment to the region. The proximity of the Northern Triangle to the North American free trade area provides an opportunity to integrate El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras into U.S. supply chains at a time when many American and Latin American companies are actively seeking alternatives to China. One approachby Matthew Rooney at the George W. Bush Institute would allow companies manufacturing in Mexico to source components in Central America and bring them to the U.S. duty-free under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. This policy would incentivize manufacturers to relocate operations from China to the region to support production in Mexico. Connecting North American supply chains to Central America and continued economic assistance could create a significant number of local jobs, providing opportunities for many who might otherwise consider leaving their countries in search of work.
Biden is thinking about building that wall — and that's a good thing
He is reportedly considering a return to construction of the southern border wall in order to fill in gaps.On Jan. 20, 2021, President Joe Biden issued a proclamation terminating Trump's declaration and stopping the border wall construction it had funded. Biden's proclamation says, it "shall be the policy of my administration that no more American taxpayer dollars be diverted to construct a border wall.
The full promise of these economic measures, however, cannot be realized unless governance improves in the region. According to a recent Wilson Centerco-authored by Ricardo Zúñiga, the State Department’s new special envoy for the Northern Triangle, the combination of entrenched corruption and elite resistance to political and economic reforms in the region is “the most important contributing factor to limited growth and social progress.” Despite decades of U.S. foreign assistance, these governance issues have left governments in these three countries largely unable to address the widespread poverty, violence, and hunger that has continued to mar the lives of many of their citizens.
Backed by renewed U.S. commitment, ato the region can help drive meaningful change. To start, the Biden administration should develop an accountability strategy that utilizes targeted sanctions and visa restrictions, through the new Engel List, the Global Magnitsky Act, and other authorities, to hold corrupt officials accountable and incentivize changes in behavior. The U.S. should also reward governmental organizations and non-governmental actors for reform and accountability efforts through political support, aid, and technical assistance.
For far too long, foreign policymakers in Washington have given inconsistent attention to the problems facing the Northern Triangle and rising Chinese activity on our doorstep. And these issues also have broader reach. As AEI research fellow Ryan Berg recentlythe Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the contest between democratic values and Chinese-supported authoritarianism is a significant challenge facing the U.S. and its partners across Latin America. In the midst of yet another border crisis and escalating economic and geopolitical competition with China, Congress and the Biden administration should seize this opportunity for leadership in our own backyard. The futures of millions of our neighbors depend on it.
After pledging not to build up Trump's border wall, Biden's intentions remain unclear .
The Biden administration has yet to put forward a plan for Trump's border wall as it grapples with immigration. But they stopped hearing from the government "right before the election," Garza told ABC News.