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Migration from Central America

The Biden-Harris Administration is seeking to stem the flow of migration from Central America. My efforts to persuade the Administration to include a "new city" pilot project in its program have so far been unsuccessful.


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NTTF briefing note March2022
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The Biden-Harris Administration’s Program to Address

the root causes of migration from Central America


The flow of immigrants across the southern border of the United States, especially from Central American countries, was a major issue in the presidential election campaign in 2020. President Trump’s approach to this issue was expanding the border wall and adopting measures to deter people without visas from crossing the border. The Biden-Harris approach was to identify the root causes of migration and implement policies, programs, and projects to make residents of the countries producing most of the migrants (Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador) more inclined to remain in their countries because of better governance, employment prospects, and physical security.


Just three weeks after Inauguration Day in 2021, President Biden issued an Executive Order on “Creating a Comprehensive Regional Framework to Address the Causes of Migration Throughout North and Central America, and to Provide Safe and Orderly Process of Asylum Seekers at the United States Border”.[1] This Executive Order assigned to the President’s National Security Advisor the task of preparing a “Root Causes Strategy” and a strategy for collaboratively managing migration in the region.


Shortly thereafter, President Biden put VP Kamal Harris in charge of leading the administration’s diplomatic efforts to address the cause of migration from the Northern Triangle. On 29 July 2021, VP Harris announced a strategy to address the root causes, along with the “Collaborative Migration Management Strategy” mentioned in the February Executive Order.[2] Typically, administration priorities such as this one lead to the formation of implementation teams in many if not most Federal agencies.


On 4 May 2021, USAID Administrator Samantha Power launched USAID’s “Northern Triangle Task Force” (NTTF) “to ensure a coordinated, unified, bold, and creative approach to addressing the causes of irregular migration”.[3] Michael Camilleri was chosen to be the Executive Director of the NTTF. It is reasonable to see USAID as the main USG agency implementing the “root causes” part of Biden’s February Executive Order. (The Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department have the lead in implementing the “Collaborative Migration Management Strategy.)


One early move to implement the Root Causes Strategy was to enlist the support of the private sector, which responded quickly and impressively. In May 2021, the “Partnership for Central America” was launched as “an independent non-governmental organization . . . in support of the Call for Action for Central America announced by VP Harris in May 2021, working with businesses and social enterprises to make new, significant commitments to address the root causes of migration through economic opportunity in the region.”[4] The Partnership’s primary government counterparts are the State Department and USAID. Prominent members of the Partnership are Cargill, Mastercard, Microsoft, Nespresso, Pepsico, CARE, Harvard School of Public Health, the US Chamber of Commerce, the World Bank Group, and the World Economic Forum. The part-time Executive Director of the Partnership is Jonathan Fantini-Porter. (Full-time, he is an “expert Associate Partner” in the Washington DC office of McKinsey&Company.)


On 13 December 2021, the Partnership organized a major virtual event to showcase its work. I had been unsuccessful for several weeks in arranging a Zoom or other meeting with Fantini-Porter.[5] However, his office invited me to register and observe the 13 December event. The moderator was USAID Deputy Administrator for Policy and Programming (Isobel Coleman). Key speakers were the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere (Brian Nichols), and senior managers from the US Chamber of Commerce, Nespresso, Cargill, Walmart, Harvard School of Public Health, and three Central American organizations.[6]


In the 13 December event, Fantini-Porter announced that the Partnership for Central America was mobilizing $1billion of new investment in the three Northern Triangle countries. The Nespresso rep mentioned that they have 10,000 employees in Central America and announced a new investment of $150 million there. One of the Central American participants, Nando Castillo, CEO of Raiz Capital, a property development company spoke about creating “safe spaces”.


VP Kamal Harris, in a short video clip, welcomed the “77 partners” participating in the event. In her remarks, she mentioned that the initial USG commitment of $750 million for the Root Causes Strategy had grown to $1.2 billion with private sector commitments. She stressed the importance of good governance and Rule of Law to reduce the pressure to migrate, but I got no sense of a “strategy” to improve either one. What came across to me was “more of the same”: an incoherent set of projects by an impressive group of players focused more on symptoms than causes. Investment, for example, is being pushed, not pulled. The new corporate investment might create thousands of jobs, but they won’t be sustainable without good governance and they will fall far short of the critical mass required to make residents of the Northern Triangle want to stay there instead of fleeing to the USA.


Lex Rieffel

13 March 2022


[1] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/02/02/executive-order-creating-a-comprehensive-regional-framework-to-address-the-causes-of-migration-to-manage-migration-throughout-north-and-central-america-and-to-provide-safe-and-orderly-processing/ [2] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/07/29/vice-president-kamala-harris-unveils-strategy-to-address-illegal-immigration.html [3] https://www.usaid.gov/generating-hope-usaid-el-salvador-guatemala-and-honduras [4] https://www.centampartnership.org [5] On two occasions, less than an hour before it was scheduled to begin, he canceled a Zoom call with me that his office had set up. No other calls were scheduled despite my requests for one. [6] The only other speakers were Fantini-Porter and a representative of the Coalition for Economic Partnerships in the Americas.

 

Key Facts about the Northern Triangle Countries


El Salvador

· Population = 6.8 million. 86 percent Mestizo; 13 percent white

· Capital city = San Salvador. El Salvador is the smallest country in continental America and is the only Central American country with no Caribbean coastline.

· It became a sovereign state in 1841 when the Federal Republic of Central America was dissolved.

· Salvadorans are one of the largest immigrant groups in the USA.

· Coffee accounted for 90 percent of export earnings in the 20th century. The economy is now more diversified in manufacturing and finance. The U.S. dollar became the country’s legal tender in 2001. Controversially, bitcoin was given legal tender status last year.

· A civil war raged between 1979 and 1992 between the land-owning oligarchy supported by the military and a broad opposition under the name of the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLF). The UN brokered the peace agreement ending the civil war.

· Nayeb Bukele from a center-right coalition was elected president in 2019. He now commands a supermajority in the legislature.


Guatemala

· Population = 17.3 million. The most populous in Central America. 56 percent Mestizo; 42 percent Maya.

· Capital City = Guatemala City, the largest in Central America. It has been called a “biodiversity hot spot”.

· It became a sovereign state in 1841, along with El Salvador and Honduras.

· In the early 20th century, Guatemala was ruled by dictators supported by the banana-exporting United Fruit Company.

· A civil war raged from 1960 to 1996 between the US-backed government and leftist rebels, ending with a UN-brokered peace agreement. By one estimate, 83 percent of the victims of the

· civil war were Maya Indians.

· Former TV comedian Jimmy Morales was elected president in 2015 on an anti-corruption platform. He was succeeded by Alejandro Giammattei on a tough-on-crime platform.


Honduras

· Population = 9.6 million. 90 percent Mestizo; 7 percent indigenous.

· Capital City = Tegucigalpa

· It became a sovereign state in 1821. It is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. It was the quintessential banana republic.

· Since independence, nearly 300 internal rebellions and civil wars have occurred.

· The economy is dominated by agriculture (coffee, tropical fruit, sugar cane), with wealth concentrated in the cities. It has a growing textile industry.

· Hurricane Mitch in 1998 devastated the economy.

· The US military worked from inside Honduras to support the “Contra” guerillas fighting in Nicaragua.

· Xiomara Castro became the first female president of Honduras in the November 2021 election. She is the wife of a former leftist president Manuel Zelaya.



N.B. Corruption and crime are rampant in these three countries. The lack of physical security may be the main driver of migration to the USA from the Northern Triangle.



03/28/2022 02:37 PM EDT


· Continue Collaborative U.S. Leadership in Central America and Haiti: As part of a comprehensive strategy to advance systemic reform while addressing the root causes of irregular migration from Central America to the United States, the Budget invests $986.8 million in the region towards the President’s commitment to provide $4 billion in assistance for Central America over four years. Also, in response to deteriorating conditions and widespread violence in Haiti, the Budget invests $274.8 million to support Haiti’s recovery from political and economic shocks, such as increasing the capacity of the Haitian National Police, combating corruption, strengthening the capacity of civil society, and supporting services for marginalized populations. These investments will ensure that the U.S. is able to revitalize partnerships that build economic resilience, democratic stability, and citizen security in the region.

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