Andres Oppenheimer

Bravo! Both Democrats and Republicans defy Trump’s absurd cuts in aid to Central America | Opinion

In February, Central Americans reach Texas after crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico. They later turned themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol agents, seeking political asylum.
In February, Central Americans reach Texas after crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico. They later turned themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol agents, seeking political asylum. Getty Images

In a rare bipartisan vote, the U.S. House has passed a bill to help Central America address the root causes of migration, instead of cutting foreign aid to the region as President Trump has stupidly ordered. Amazing!

On July 15, Democratic and Republican lawmakers unanimously approved a bill that would give $577 million in new funds for El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — the Northern Triangle countries — next year, linked to stringent conditions of compliance.

While Republicans will not admit it publicly, it was a bipartisan rejection of Trump’s recent decision to cut $370 million in U.S. aid to these three countries.

The House bill will put to a test whether Trump really wants to reduce illegal immigration, or — as I suspect — whether he really wants his fake immigration crisis to linger to energize his base for the 2020 elections. If Trump opposes this bill, as he probably will, it will be the clearest indication that his immigration stands are pure political demagoguery.

“Rather than cutting off assistance to Central America, we should be deepening our support for the people of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The most effective way to do this is to create more opportunities for those who live there,” said Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-NY.), the House bill’s sponsor.

The bill’s Republican co-sponsor Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said the proposed legislation “prioritizes economic development, strengthens democratic institutions and supports the work of faith-based organizations committed to lifting up at-risk youth.”

The bill’s supporters say that it does not give a blank check to corrupt governments. Much of the new funds would go to non-government organizations that help create jobs and fight corruption, they say.

In addition to carrots, the bill includes sticks. For the first time, it calls for individual sanctions on corrupt Northern Triangle officials and their allies in the business world, much like the existing U.S. sanctions that freeze assets and deny entry visas to corrupt Venezuelan officials.

Also, the bill would require the Trump administration to work with Mexico in a regional plan to reduce poverty and violence in Central America, so that fewer Central American migrants are compelled to move to Mexico and, ultimately, to the United States.

But, again, there are strong reasons to wonder whether Trump truly is interested in addressing the root causes of Central American migration.

Trump’s recent decision to cut $370 million in U.S. aid to help Central American countries reduce poverty and violence not only does nothing to reduce migration, but will drive it up. Cutting foreign aid to the region as a punishment for its migration flows — even if most of this aid goes to reputable non-government institutions — is a recipe for worsening these countries problems.

Trump is also refusing to approve funds to send more immigration judges to the border to process asylum requests. That is causing growing numbers of asylum requests to pile up, giving the impression of a major crisis on the border. In fact, increasing the number of judges would rapidly help reduce the backlog.

Much of Trump’s anti-immigration stand is a hoax. He keeps talking about an alleged immigration crisis, but — as demonstrated in a recent Pew Research Center study — the total number of undocumented immigrants in the United States fell from 12.2 million in 2007 to 10.5 million in 2017. Yes, there have been caravans of Central American migrants lately, but the total number of unauthorized immigrants in the country is still below what it was in 2007, experts say.

Will enough Republicans in the Senate support this bill to send it to Trump’s desk for signing? Or will they, as usual, remain shamelessly afraid of doing anything that may prompt Trump to oppose their re-election campaigns?

It’s too soon to know. But if the Senate doesn’t support this bipartisan House initiative, and if Trump does not sign it into law, it will be the ultimate evidence that Trump is an immigration hypocrite. He won’t stop the flow of Central Americans by making their countries poorer.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show at 8 p.m. Sunday on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera