Reps. Engel and McCaul offer holistic approach to Central American migration problems
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(10 May 2019) –In a bipartisan effort to deal with the increasing pressures from out-of-control migration from Central American countries El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Ranking Member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) jointly introduced legislation to address a broad range of issues in Central American countries. The Engel-McCaul bill offers a holistic approach to the problems besetting the region and offers a significant different course of action to the approach President Donald Trump has been pursuing on the Central American migration crisis. It will effectively restore cuts to the development assistance and security-related programs to the three countries recently announced by the Trump Administration. It will also balance the burden of dealing with the region’s migration crisis between the U.S. and the target countries. Of equal significance, the bill will bind the President to Congress’ prescribed funding commitments to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to ensure full implementation of the program.
Cited as the United States–Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act, the legislation is intended to support the people of Central America while strengthening U.S. national security by taking a holistic approach to addressing the root causes of migration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Furthermore, instead of ascribing sole responsibility to the governments of Central America to stem the immigration tide, as the Trump Administration seems inclined to do, once enacted into law the legislation will offer a program of shared responsibility with the U.S. government providing the necessary leadership and resources, as well as responsibility for effective implementation, and ensuring accountability of Central American governments participating in the program.
Most importantly, the Engel-McCaul legislation, in offering a holistic approach to the intractable problems facing Central America, sets out in detail ways to deal with the root causes of the immigration crisis, and offers new approaches to traditional support for beleaguered countries in the region. The Engel-McCaul bill targets several key areas while spreading the burden between the U.S. State Department and the USAID and the governments of the region, and provides significant financial and other resources to support the new program.
The bill authorizes $577 million in foreign assistance to Central America for Fiscal Year 2020 and includes conditions on any assistance that goes to the central governments of the Northern Triangle countries. It reasserts congressional intent not permitting authorized funds to be reprogrammed, transferred or rescinded. This provision clearly imposes restrictions on how the Trump Administration can spend the appropriated funds and a deliberate intent to prevent any of the funds being diverted elsewhere, such as to finance the building of the wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. It also includes conditions on any assistance going to the central governments of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
In addition, the Engel-McCaul bill also lays out a series of actions to be taken by the Secretary of State, the Administrator of USAID and other U.S. government officials to prioritize inclusive economic growth and development, combat corruption, strengthen democratic institutions and improve security conditions in the Northern Triangle. The State Department and USAID will be required to develop and report to Congress on annual benchmarks to track the progress of the strategy in addressing the drivers of irregular migration, and to establish dedicated administrative capacity to do so. The State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs is also mandated to conduct a feasibility study on the establishment of an Investment Fund for the Northern Triangle countries and southern Mexico by the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation.
The Engel-McCaul bill uniquely establishes the authority to put in place targeted visa bans and asset freezes on individuals who are determined to be engaged in acts of corruption impacting the Northern Triangle countries. This includes private citizens, public officials and individuals residing outside of the Northern Triangle who are involved in corruption in these countries. Such sanctions measures are not generally included in similar bills and are a clear indication of the seriousness of the sponsors in ensuring that the problems of Central America are addressed. This could prove to be a game changer in addressing the development and security issues plaguing Central American countries for decades.
Recognizing the linkages between southern Mexico and the Central American countries, the bill enhances engagement with the Mexican government on the Northern Triangle. The Secretary of State and various executive branch agencies are required to support development efforts in southern Mexico and strengthen security cooperation with regard to Mexico’s shared border with Guatemala and Belize.
In announcing introduction of the legislation on May 9, 2019, Chairman Engel drew attention to the grave dangers faced by Central American migrants in their risky journey from their homes in Central America to the U.S. border, and noted that “many people only make that decision when they feel like they have no other option.” Chairman Engel said, “The best way for the United States to address the challenges facing El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras is by investing in a safer and more prosperous Central America and helping to create more opportunities for those who live there. This legislation demonstrates Congress’s continued commitment to the people of Central America.”
Ranking Member McCaul drew attention to the serious economic and security challenges faced by Central American countries, and noted that these issues “are threatening regional stability and driving waves of illegal migrants to the United States.” He said that in order to deal with this crisis effectively, the conditions on the ground must be addressed. He also highlighted that the “bill outlines a clear and consistent strategy to provide U.S. assistance in four key areas: economic development; anti-corruption; democracy and governance; and security.” Rep. McCaul noted also that the bill “establishes metrics to ensure that our aid effectively addresses illegal migration and demonstrates that these countries are doing their part to stem the flow.” He emphasized the need to deal with the challenges at the U.S. border and expressed his commitment “to addressing the root causes of illegal migration and helping to facilitate a more prosperous Central America.”
The Engel-McCaul bill is expected to enjoy broad bi-partisan support in the House of Representatives with Reps. Albio Sires (D-NJ) and Francis Rooney (R-FL), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security and Trade, joining in as original co-sponsors of the legislation along with Reps. Norma Torres (D-CA) and Ann Wagner (R-MO), the Co-Chairs of the Congressional Central America Caucus, and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX). After passage in the House there will be significant pressure on the U.S. Senate to take up the Engel-McCaul bill.
© 2019 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post