US goodwill policy toward Central America has changed for the worse

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An ambitious policy response to the Central American refugee crisis begun under US President Barack Obama has, for the most part, been abandoned by the administration of President Donald Trump. While the Obama administration performed detainment and legal procedures somewhat similarly to the Trump administration, the former simultaneously endeavored to address the refugee crisis at its source.

You went from an administration that was very intent on being forward-leaning on these issues to an administration that could not be more hostile,” said Ronald Newman, who was director of human rights and refugee protection on the National Security Council in the Obama administration. (It’s uncertain how the Trump administration fulfills that role now; when asked, an NSC spokesperson replied, “The current National Security Council coordinates policy development on human rights and refugee protections through the work of two directorates staffed by subject matter experts with decades of experience across multiple disciplines.”)

The program, when it existed, was the humanitarian arm of a multi-pronged approach that emerged when the Obama administration was faced with a Central American refugee crisis of its own. Its elimination underscores the differences between the way Obama approached an intractable immigration problem and the way the Trump administration has decided to deal with it. Vice President Mike Pence, in his visit with the leaders of the Northern Triangle countries on Thursday, merely told them to stem migration flows.

In 2014, the number of unaccompanied children and families from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras suddenly surged on the southern border. Obama immigration officials responded by expanding detention centers and trying to overturn a court settlement that dictated how long they could hold children — steps similar to how the Trump administration has responded.

But the Obama administration also determined that it needed to confront the problem at the source — that is, in the three countries from which most of the unaccompanied children were coming: Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The program it settled on included providing funding to Mexico to better police its own southern border, asking for an emergency economic aid package from Congress for the three countries, and undertaking a media campaign encouraging people from those countries not to make the dangerous journey across Mexico to the United States.

This article, by Emily Tamkin, originally appeared in BuzzFeed News

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