In recent weeks, the Trump administration announced its intention to cut all foreign assistance to the three Northern Triangle countries of Central America—El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The threat to cut aid was couched in terms of punishing the governments for “sending their people” to the U.S. Instead of alleviating the humanitarian crisis in the Northern Triangle and at our southern border, such cuts will only fuel further migration from the region and expand the growing refugee crisis.
There are many types of foreign assistance. Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has long advocated to reduce assistance to foreign militaries and security assistance that supports militarization of police forces. This type of aid often drives further distrust in government institutions, causing more people to flee.
But other forms of foreign assistance provide emergency relief or support economic development. Effective aid includes violence prevention and response, poverty alleviation and programs that address corruption, strengthen human rights protections and promote the rule of law. Addressing these areas of concern responds to the factors that push people to leave their homes in search of safety, security and refuge.
Recently, a representative from one of MCC’s partner organizations in Honduras, the Mennonite Social Action Commission (CASM) visited Washington, D.C., to share CASM’s experience working with people deported back to Honduras from Mexico and the U.S. They shared with many congressional offices that when people have opportunities to work and earn a living wage in their communities, they want to stay. When people feel secure and can envision a future for their family, they choose to stay.
Ultimately, migration is a right and a choice. Local governments cannot force people to stay and trying to do so is counterproductive. Under international law, every individual has the right to freedom of movement and the right to leave their home country to seek protection. Under U.S. law, immigrants have the right to request asylum, or safety, from violence and persecution.
Threatening to cut funding, close borders, or deny asylum seekers their lawful right to protection will not resolve the ongoing humanitarian crisis that we see at the border. As scripture cautions against “withhold[ing] justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow,” (Deuteronomy 27:19) we must consider the complex factors that push people out of their home communities to seek safety for their families. We can support the ongoing efforts of local organizations, like CASM, who work holistically to reintegrate returning migrants—considering their social, emotional and economic vulnerabilities.
If assistance is implemented carefully and in close collaboration with civil society and local communities, such aid can increase safety and opportunities for individuals in the short term and allow them to stay and thrive in their communities for the long term. Ask your member of Congress to protect the foreign assistance budget which supports a variety of poverty reduction and violence prevention programs worldwide.