Like the Wall itself, there are two sides to the debate over best practices for improving US-Mexico border security. On one side, the Trump administration and its supporters insist that the “crisis” at the border will be best mitigated by the erection of a “big, beautiful wall,” in addition to other security measures. Though on the other side of the debate, there are plenty of voices advocating for a different approach. By supporting the efforts of Central American governments to address and remedy the primary migration drivers – political corruption, crime, underdevelopment and poverty – Washington may be able to totally avoid the construction of a border wall.
Plagued by corruption, violence and gang terror, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras need stronger and more honest judges and police officers, better schools and economic development. Elites control much of the land and avoid taxes, even at some of the lowest tax rates in Latin America. Bribery is rampant, and too often leaders lack the interest, competence or will to manage such problems.
Over the years, the United States has contributed to instability by supporting autocrats in civil wars and tolerating corruption that has bred criminality. In 2017, Washington recognized the results of the Honduran presidential election days after the Organization of American States called for new elections because of voting irregularities.
The United States has also invested in Latin America for decades to promote democracy and economic and social development. But the Trump administration has begun to place “more emphasis on preventing illegal immigration, combating transnational crime and generating export and investment opportunities for U.S. businesses,” according to a report last month by the Congressional Research Service, which does nonpartisan research for Congress.
While the administration has tried to scale back aid, Congress has resisted, appropriating $2.1 billion for the region from 2016 to 2018, roughly double what had previously been allocated.
Results are mixed: While murder rates in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras declined in 2018, they are still very high, fueled by the trafficking of 90 percent of the cocaine bound for the United States. Economic growth has been steady since 2014, but poverty rates are relatively unchanged. While officials have pursued criminal cases involving presidents and other leaders, opposition from political and economic interests threatens to upend their work.
But there are reasons for hope: A 2014 study found that community-based programs to reduce crime and violence in Central America, run by the United States Agency for International Development, reported 19 percent fewer robberies and 51 percent fewer murders.
Other programs, also funded mainly through U.S.A.I.D. and the State Department, help vet police officers, get them to work more closely with communities, identify youth prone to violence and work to change their behavior. Prosecutors and judges are being given training and technical assistance on managing cases and gathering evidence; journalists, activists and civil society groups are being counseled in how to protect themselves from threats. Other programs seek to make the civil service more professional, help subsistence farmers diversify their crops and increase yields and connect regional electric grids.`