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White House hopes to curb immigration from Central America via $1 billion in economic development

February 7, 2023, 10:01 am

WASHINGTON — The White House Monday announced nearly $1 billion in investments to address economic causes of migration in several Central American countries, an effort being spurred by Vice President Kamala Harris. 

Kamala Harris

Spread over several years, 10 private companies from Target to Nestlé are pledging $950 million to create economic development in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The plan is an attempt to curb economic-related migration at the U.S.-Mexico border by creating opportunities in those countries, senior administration officials said on Monday during a call with reporters. 

“These efforts to address the root causes of migration represent a long-term development effort that will take time, but we’re already beginning to see some positive trends,” a senior administration official said.

In the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic in April 2020, people from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico made up a majority of migrants at the Southern border.

But that is not the case now and a majority of migrants — 63% — since November 2022 were from other countries such as Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Peru and Venezuela, according to the Pew Research Center. 

The Biden administration has continued the use — through court orders — of the controversial Title 42 policy, which was implemented by the Trump administration in the early stages of the pandemic to bar migrants from claiming asylum. 

As a result, more than 2 million migrants have been turned away at the U.S. border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. The U.S. Supreme Court later this month will decide whether to keep the policy in place.

Initiative totals $4.2 billion

Monday’s announcement builds from a May 2021 initiative Harris launched, known as the Call to Action, bringing the total amount of public-private partnership investments to $4.2 billion from 47 companies, senior administration officials said.

The Call to Action has six main focus areas. They include supporting long-term development of the region such as promoting a reform agenda; digital and financial inclusion; food security that takes into account climate change for resilient agriculture and clean energy; education and workforce development; public health access; and strengthening democracy and combating corruption.  

Harris was also scheduled to meet later Monday with private sector leaders and government officials to strategize next steps, senior administration officials said.

The companies in the new announcement include Chegg, an online learning platform; the Columbia Sportswear Company; Microwd, which offers microloans to women entrepreneurs; Millicom, a telecommunications services in Latin America; Nestle, Nespresso’s parent company and Nescafé; Nextil, a garment manufacturing company; Protela-Colombia, a textile manufacturer; Root Capital, a nonprofit social investment fund in rural areas to grow agricultural businesses; Target; and Viamericas, which offers money transfers.

Factors in migration

Economic factors are not the only cause of migration. It also can stem from climate change, political instability and violence, according to research from the Migration Policy Institute, which studies migration patterns across the world. 

The administration has directed the U.S. Agency for International Development to help reduce gender-based violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. For example, in January, the Department of State launched a $3 million project for programs to support survivors and invest in education to combat violence in six municipalities in northern Honduras.

Senior administration officials said while there has been increased migration from people from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela, the administration’s immigration policy for those countries has been based on a parole system rather than economic initiatives, because of the inability to return those migrants to their home countries due to oppressive regimes or violence. 

Senior administration officials also noted that there has been a decrease in migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela at the Southern border, due to those newly announced parole programs. 

In early January, the administration announced dual immigration strategies that would increase expulsions of migrants who attempt to cross the Southern border, while also expanding opportunities for up to 30,000 migrants each month from Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua who have U.S.-based financial sponsors and have passed a background check to enter the country legally and would allow them to work temporarily for two years.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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