The Trump administration’s first 100 days have brought a new and troubling approach to the treatment of migrants in the United States, primarily from Mexico and Central America, and a focus on border security through the President’s signature campaign pledge to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. But beyond border security, the general call to cut foreign aid, and the antagonistic rhetoric towards Mexico, there is still no clarity about how this administration is going to approach other key issues in the hemisphere, such as relations with Cuba, the peace process in Colombia, and the political conflict in Venezuela. WOLA has commented on each of these issues.
The Border Wall: An Ineffective and Expensive Mistake
As Congress debates a funding bill this week to keep the federal government open, the Trump administration has doubled down on its request for US$1.4 billion to start building the wall. The administration’s request could lead to a congressional showdown over the budget, and even a federal government shutdown. While the outcome remains uncertain, it is clear that a border wall is an expensive and ineffective mistake.
Credible estimates put the cost of the wall anywhere from $8 billion to $70 billion. What’s more, this costly use of public funds will not substantively make the U.S.-Mexico border more secure; the majority of illicit drugs enter the country through the ports of entry and a wall would only slow down a border crosser for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, as the cost estimates rise, the number of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border has dropped significantly. In fact, in the past several months, the change has been so striking that the Trump administration started claiming victory for its hardline approach (even though it undercuts its argument for building a wall). While it is true that the February and March apprehension statistics are low, it is also too early to draw any conclusions from this drop. These decreases are not a vindication of hardline policies.
- What is the “Trump Effect” on Migration? It’s Too Early to Draw Conclusions
- Throwing Money at the Wall: An Overview of the Trump Administration’s Border Wall Funding Requests
Troubling Proposed Cuts to Foreign Aid
The administration’s “skinny budget” for Fiscal Year 2018 included deep cuts to essential foreign aid programs, while increasing military spending by $54 billion. These funding changes, if enacted, would threaten the U.S. commitment to help address the violence, insecurity, and weak governance that lead children and families to flee Central America; they would also risk militarizing foreign aid. Abandoning or curtailing U.S. engagement with Central America or diverting funds to militarized approaches would only harm U.S. interests in the long term by doing nothing to address—or even exacerbating—the root causes of migration.
- Trump Budget Plan Prioritizes Militarization Over Investing in Smart Diplomacy
- Central America Needs Smart U.S. Investments in Long-Term Solutions
No Clarity About Major Policy Challenges in U.S.-Latin America Relations
100 days into the Trump administration, there has been almost no indication about what the U.S approach toward major hemispheric issues will be. For example, the administration has failed to voice support for peace processes in Colombia, a strong U.S. ally that has received support from both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Likewise, the administration has failed to articulate clearly defined policies on engagement with Cuba; anti-corruption and rule of law programs in Mexico; and Venezuela’s political and economic crisis.