World: Central American Migrants Are 'Voting With Their Feet' Despite U.S. Threats - PressFrom - US
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WorldCentral American Migrants Are 'Voting With Their Feet' Despite U.S. Threats

15:25  21 july  2019
15:25  21 july  2019 Source:   online.wsj.com

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The country now has less than a month to contain surging migration from Central America . WSJ’ s Santiago Perez travels to southern Mexico to see the effects of But the plan faces a grim economic reality: aid isn’t nearly as vital as the billions of dollars in remittances sent home by migrants in the U . S .

President Trump’ s government recently announced more than 0 million in aid cuts to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador—the Northern Triangle—in a bid to pressure them to slow the flow of migrants to the U . S . And it gives the Central American governments little incentive to stop them.

Central American Migrants Are 'Voting With Their Feet' Despite U.S. Threats© Daniele Volpe for The Wall Street Journal

CHINACLA, Honduras—President Trump’s government recently announced more than $560 million in aid cuts to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador—the Northern Triangle—in a bid to pressure them to slow the flow of migrants to the U.S.

But the plan faces a grim economic reality: aid isn’t nearly as vital as the billions of dollars in remittances sent home by migrants in the U.S.

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Hundreds of Central American migrants resumed their march north through Mexico on Saturday, en route to the U . S . border where President Donald “These ( U . S .) policies leave migrants even more vulnerable, because they will be stranded in northern Mexico, with human traffickers lurking, because

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That gives thousands of poor farmers here in a vast region of tropical forest and farmland in southern Honduras a strong incentive to migrate in search of better wages and economic stability. And it gives the Central American governments little incentive to stop them.

“No amount of economic development aid is going to greatly transform economic opportunity in the Northern Triangle in short order,” said Michael Clemens, an economist and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a Washington think tank. “In contrast, remittances are critical across the region to shield families from poverty and from bad shocks from things like crop failures—which drive more migration.”

Remittances totaled $4.8 billion to Honduras, $5.4 billion to El Salvador and $9.5 billion to Guatemala in 2018, according to data compiled by the World Bank, numbers that have steadily risen for more than a decade as more immigrants come and find higher-paying jobs. By contrast, the U.S. sent a total of $2.6 billion to the entire region over the last four fiscal years.

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Manuel Sosa, 41 years old, saved $30,000 working construction jobs in New Jersey in the early 2000s, which he used to build a house and a small corn and vegetable farm near the tiny village of La Estancia, where he and his wife raised five children.

But that money is long gone and no new remittances are coming in. Now he earns less than $5 a day—like more than 60% of Hondurans—and last year his family relied on emergency food aid from the U.S. government to cope with a brutal drought.

“If the crops fail again this year, I’ll have to migrate again,” he said.

Hondurans depend on remittances in part because their government spends so little on social programs like schools, hospitals and child care programs. Honduras spent $200 a year on average on health care for each of its citizens in 2016, Guatemala spent $241 and El Salvador, $294, according to the World Bank’s latest figures. The Latin American country average was $583, while the U.S. spent $9,870.

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The World Economic Forum, a Geneva-based group that ranks countries based on competitiveness and the effectiveness of public spending, ranks Honduras 107th out of 137 countries in the quality of its primary education. Guatemala ranks 130th and El Salvador 128th. All three countries sit near the bottom of global rankings in corruption, extortion and criminal violence, factors that have driven migrants to the U.S. in recent years.

“By voting with their feet, the migrants are sending a very clear signal,” said William Easterly, an economist at New York University and a well-known critic of international aid programs. “They are telling us that aid is not working for them, that they like the American model, American institutions and the higher wages in America.”

The State Department plans to suspend or redirect about $564 million in funds allocated over the past two fiscal years. This week, the State Department advised Congress of its first proposed reallocation of the Northern Triangle funds: $41.9 million in development aid to support the government of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó. While the U.S. will continue to fund some health, human rights and pro-democracy initiatives in the Northern Triangle, most violence-prevention and development aid will be cut, including to farmers.

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Between 150 and 200 Central American migrants plan to present asylum claims in the coming days, organizers said, while roughly another 150 Trump’ s ire at the caravan stems from larger concerns he’ s expressed since he first started running for president three years ago. He wants the U . S . to stop

Historically, Mexico and Central American countries have done little to slow migration. But under U.S. pressure, that is starting to change.

In Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales’s government had negotiated an agreement to accept U.S.-bound asylum seekers from El Salvador and Honduras, although this week the pact was blocked by Guatemala’s highest court.

On Monday, the U.S. announced a new rule that requires migrants seeking asylum to apply for it in transit countries rather than in the U.S. If the rule withstands court challenges, it could deter Central American migrants from entering the U.S.

Last month, the U.S. persuaded Mexico’s government to crack down on Central American migrants crossing its territory with threats to impose tariffs on Mexican imports.

The U.S., however, trades much less with the Northern Triangle countries, leaving development aid, rather than tariffs, the more important pressure point. Still, even that may be ineffective.

“I don’t think that the Central American governments are going to be so easily blackmailed by withholding aid,” said Adam Isacson, a Central America expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, a think tank. “Central America aid was mostly intended to benefit poor Central Americans facing strong incentives to migrate” rather than government officials with the power to make decisions about migration policy.

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Here in the small town of Chinacla, in the heart of a region known as Central America’s Dry Corridor, U.S. aid money hasn’t stopped farmer Francisco Mejia’s family from succumbing to the lure of better wages and stability up north.

Last year, a contractor funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, helped him install an irrigation system for his coffee, corn and bean crops. He added acreage and prepared for a bigger harvest. Even so, meager work opportunities sent his youngest son Edwin, 26, to sneak into the U.S. this year, where he was apprehended and put in a detention center.

Mr. Mejia’s elder son, 30-year-old Elvin Antonio, earns about $15 a week working as a farmhand, or barely enough to support his wife and 2-year-old daughter. Despite his brother’s fate and hardening Trump administration policies, he says he, too, may try his luck on the migrant trail through Mexico.

Even the son of Chinacla’s municipal president, a relatively wealthy coffee grower, fled to the U.S. a few months ago.

Thousands of farming families here depend on emergency food distribution programs funded by USAID funds. In fiscal 2017, the U.S. administered $3.4 million for disaster response and $3.5 million under its Food for Peace programs in Honduras, reaching more than 25,000 people, according to U.S. government figures.

But in April, USAID sent out termination letters to about 250 agricultural extension workers, ending hundreds of programs that helped with irrigation, seeds, fertilizer and technical support.

“This new situation is going to have a terrible impact,” said Denis Donaire, who runs a program Chinacla that helps farmers access irrigation sources. “It could provoke a new wave of migration.”

Write to Robbie Whelan at [email protected]

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