After a year in which over 50,000 children attempted to illegally cross into the United States, the Obama administration has asked Congress for $USD 1 billion in assistance to Central American countries included in his budget request. This figure is roughly three times what the U.S. has allocated in the past.1
The effort is spearheaded by Vice President Joe Biden who published an op-ed in the New York Times in late January to bolster support for the president’s request. In his article Biden states that the United States will support the region as long as the countries demonstrate the political will to move in the right direction. He argues that steps have been taken by all three countries in terms of increasing transparency, decreasing the rate of human trafficking and providing new protection for investors. The vice president highlights security, good governance and an increase in government funding to strengthen the Central American countries and increase stability in the region.2
On February 2nd, the President submitted his request for the 2016 budget. The New York Times has since published an editorial lauding the strategy of the Obama administration and calling for Congress to choose the “intelligent” option with regard to border security. The editorial asserts that the tripling in aid will combat the root causes of illegal immigration rather than focusing on the more discussed issue of border security. The other option currently being discussed is to increase funding for the Department of Homeland Security on the condition that DACA is abolished. DACA is a federal initiative created by the Obama administration that defers prosecutorial action for two years of current illegal residents who immigrated as children.3 The conditionality of funding is of critical importance as funding for the stand alone Cabinet-level department expires February 27th. The shutdown of DHS would affect agencies such as the secret service and border patrol, which are deemed vital to border security.4
The current request for aid in Central America is drawing comparisons to the mixed success of Plan Colombia. The Clinton era military and humanitarian aid package of $USD 7.5 billion received bipartisan support as part of the War on Drugs. While it is too early to draw conclusions on the long lasting impact of the plan, some Latin American experts like Michael Shifter see the potential for success of a similar program in Central America. In an article in 2012 for Americas Quarterly Shifter stated that “the lessons derived from the Plan Colombia effort can, with appropriate cautions and caveats, be applied to current challenges in Mexico and, particularly, the Northern Triangle countries- Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador- in Central America.” Shifter, the President of the Inter-American Dialogue sees similarities between the two cases, notably the “spreading lawlessness and lack of state authority” in Colombia in 2000 and Central America today. Critics of the plan point to the over $USD 8 billion spent since 2000 on Plan Colombia and doubt that the outcome justified the enormous expenditure.5
The divide currently rests between tackling immigration proactively or reactively. While liberals contend that a proactive approach will spur stability and solve the U.S. immigration problem, conservatives are not convinced throwing money at these fragile countries will actually help the issue. Instead the funds could be better spent for initiatives more aligned with the party base. Ultimately, exactly how much funding Central American countries will receive, and whether DHS will pass before the February 27th deadline, will be a result of bipartisan support and belief that the administration’s plan for Central America will be successful.
1. Higginbottom, Heather. Briefing on President Obama’s FY 2016 Budget Request. February 2, 2015. Available at: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2015/02/237092.htm.
2. Biden, Joe. “A Plan for Central America.” January 29, 2015. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/30/opinion/joe-biden-a-plan-for-central-america.html
3. “The Case for Aid to Central America.” February 9, 2015. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/09/opinion/the-case-for-aid-to-central-america.html?_r=0
4. Foley, Elise. “John Boehner on DHS Funding: ‘Ask Senate Democrats When They’re Going to Get Off Their Ass”. February 11, 2015. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/11/john-boehner-dhs-funding_n_6661...
5. Shifter, Michael. “Plan Colombia: A Retrospective” Summer 2012. Available at: http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/3787
Photo by Zack Clark. Public Domain.