While the United States threatens to cut funding to Central America in response to immigration issues, critics say the cutbacks will only aggravate concerns about immigration and illegal border crossings.
U.S. President Donald Trump said Saturday that roughly $500 million will be cut from aid going to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
The plan has received pushback from social service organizations, including Catholic Relief Services.
Sean Callahan, president and CEO of CRS, decried the decision in a statement on April 2.
“We oppose the administration’s decision to cancel foreign assistance for the Northern Triangle of Central America. With bipartisan support, targeted U.S. assistance has improved prosperity for the poor and vulnerable in Central America,” the statement said.
In a press release on Tuesday, Department of State spokesman Robert Palladino clarified that the budget cuts would impact money allocated for in 2017 and 2018 but not yet distributed.
He said it is Trump’s obligation to ensure secure U.S. borders of the United States, and that foreign aid programs have failed to deter immigration or asylum claims.
“The President’s direction to end foreign assistance programs impacts approximately $450 million in Fiscal Year 2018 allocations. And the State Department along with the United States Agency for International Development currently are evaluating the impact on Fiscal Year 2017 funds.”
“These programs have not effectively prevented illegal immigration from coming to the United States, and they’ve not achieved the desired results,” he added.
Catholic Relief Services, which expects to lose $38 million in program funding, said immigration will increase if funding is cut to the Northern Triangle of Central America.
“Such programs, implemented by agencies like CRS, have reduced poverty and food insecurity and helped address the underlying causes of violence and migration. Redirecting these funds will undermine long-term U.S. policy goals, lay waste to key progress gained, and exacerbate migration to our border,” CRS said.
Rick Jones, a policy adviser for CRS in El Salvador, told the Associated Press that the lack of funding would harm mental health and crime prevention programs.
The budget cut “will be sending the message, ‘Help is not on the way … and you’re going to be left on your own,'” Jones told the AP.
“And basically people left on their own are going to be more desperate and more people are going to leave,” he said.
Vicki Gass, Oxfam America senior policy adviser for Central America and Mexico, told reporters that the cutbacks would “foster the same instability that is making people flee in the first place,”
Dozens of other charity aid programs and political projects will also be impacted.
Foreign aid in Central America aims to fund violence prevention, economic growth, social development, human rights and good governance, and borders and drug control. In 2017 and 2018, Guatemala received the most funding, followed by Honduras, and then El Salvador.
“Our brothers and sisters in Central America are vulnerable to food insecurity, violence and unemployment. We must continue to work together to ensure all families and communities can reach their fullest potential,” said Callahan.