On Tuesday, Senate Democrats unveiled what they characterized as “a set of serious, legitimate solutions” to the growing border crisis, while simultaneously slamming President Trump for “doubling down on failed immigration policies.”
The serious solution is, in fact, a rehash of a failed legislative proposal made in the last Congress to increase funding to the failed Central American states from which thousands of migrants are fleeing daily.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer claimed the Central America Reform and Enforcement Act is a bill “based on solutions that have shown success in the past and seeks to stem the flow of asylum claims at our border,” while providing a “safer path to asylum” for Central American families.
The purportedly “common sense” measure would boost financial assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras as a means of mitigating the violence and poverty in the Golden Triangle countries; increase opportunities for migrants to apply for asylum before they get to the U.S. border; put more “resources” into immigration judges; and add more protections for children.
In his column praising the political genius of the proposal, Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent wrote, “The hope is that the plan will give Democrats the basis for a substantive blueprint to respond to the asylum-seeking crisis — and, more broadly, an answer to Trump’s xenophobic and nativist nationalism, a vision to contrast with his.”
Senate Democrats are offering a vision that provides a contrast to Trump. They also are proposing to give more aid to corrupt Central American governments – a position they’ve questioned in the past.
When there was a similar, but much smaller, surge in migrants to the U.S. border in 2014, the Obama administration pitched a plan to give more aid to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Notably, the $1 billion “fund-your-way-out-of-the-border-crisis” policy was outlined in a New York Times op-ed penned by current Democratic presidential candidate and then-Vice President Joe Biden.
The proposal was based on another aid package designed to improve the situation in Colombia, which was facing similar problems with drug crime, violence and poverty. As even the liberal American Prospect magazine acknowledged, it was a failure.
While Biden was a willing messenger for repeating failed foreign policy initiatives, some of the same senators calling today for more aid to Central America had their own reservations about the Obama plan.
“We’ve spent billions of dollars there over two decades. And we’ve seen conditions get worse in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), informed then-Secretary of State John Kerry during a February hearing in 2015.
Leahy also suggested private businesses in the region bear a responsibility to improve the situation and “should be doing more.”
During questioning of Kerry at an appropriations hearing later in the month, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) questioned the secretary about the wisdom of investing another $1 billion of taxpayer dollars into Central America
“We can’t just continue to layer aid programs,” he told Kerry.
“We have to have accountability in these programs. We’ve had many programs in Central America and the results have been less than consequential,” added Cardin.
Those same concerns about pouring good money into bad governments were echoed in an August 19, 2015 letter from a group of House Democrats to then-Secretary Kerry. The group said that while they understood the administration’s efforts to “address the root causes of migration” from Central America, they worried U.S. taxpayer dollars would be “used for military-style policing, activity that could, in fact, be one of the causes of this migration as it exacerbates the violence in the country.”
Just as they are today, Republicans called in 2014 for amending the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, which requires migrant children from Central American countries have their cases heard in immigration courts, unlike those from Mexico or Canada.
In fact, the Obama administration backed Republicans’ call for granting the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) more authority to expeditiously deport migrant children from Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador.
In July 2014, then-DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson told Congress he thought “some type of added discretion on my part would be helpful to address this particular situation” on the border, specifically, he added, “treating migrants from the three Central American countries” in the same way as migrants from Mexico and Canada.
Eventually, the Obama administration buckled under pressure from pro-amnesty activists and no change was made.
Stating his intent to vote against any further aid to Central America without changing the 2008 anti-trafficking law, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said, “It would be more money, same problem, if we don’t change the law.”
True words then. Even truer words now.