For the Biden administration, the Northern Triangle poses a migratory trilemma

HANNOUNCE THE The protest was not on the Mexican side of the border, it could have been mistaken for a rally for Joe Biden. Migrants wore white T– shirts featuring the presidential campaign logo and the message “Biden Please Let Us In”. Critics say the president’s folkloric manners are to blame for an increase in arrivals at the border his administration is working to contain. It may be unfair, but it reflects the dissatisfaction of many Americans with his handling of immigration. It is one of the few policy questions where a majority disapproves of the president’s performance.

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While some migrants – particularly from the “Northern Triangle” such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are collectively known – may have been encouraged by Mr. Biden’s promise of a “just and humane immigration system” , most leave their homes for other reasons. Central America has the highest poverty rate and some of the worst homicide and domestic violence rates in Latin America. Families who can afford to legally move abroad do so, while those who cannot will often take the long road north. Worsening natural disasters, such as back-to-back Category Four hurricanes in 2020, are also displacing people.

Mr. Biden is no stranger to the woes of the Northern Triangle. As Barack Obama’s vice president, he has overseen an effort to reduce migration by addressing its root causes, a job he feels compelled to complete, says Paul Angelo, of the Council on Foreign Relations, a thinking group. He asked for $ 4 billion in aid for the Northern Triangle and chose Vice President Kamala Harris to lead talks there. Ms. Harris will visit Mexico and Guatemala in June, her first official trip abroad. And he appointed Ricardo Zúñiga, a senior foreign service official, as special envoy to the Northern Triangle.

Donald Trump has frozen aid in hopes of forcing governments to detain northbound migrants. This may have contributed to a drop in arrivals. Mr Biden hopes to accomplish something similar with crime and poverty reduction programs. Some have found success: according to YOU SAID, in 2014-2017, community-based violence prevention programs helped reduce murder rates by 45% in 50 municipalities in El Salvador and by 36% nationally in Honduras (other experts report a repression in prisons and rumors of negotiations between gangs and politicians). However, Mr. Biden has not abandoned the more difficult options. His administration has reached an agreement with Mexico and the Northern Triangle to strengthen their border security.

Yet working with Central American governments goes against another impetus of Mr. Biden: fighting corruption. Over the past decade, the rule of law has eroded in the Northern Triangle, according to Transparency International, a watchdog. The University of las Américas Puebla ranked Honduras and Guatemala among the worst countries for impunity (Mexico was not far behind). Both scrapped international commissions that investigated and prosecuted dishonest officials.

Finding a balance now lies with Ms Harris and Mr Zúñiga. The vice-president pointedly avoided criticizing Andrés Manuel López Obrador despite some of his autocratic inclinations, in part because his cooperation on immigration matters is necessary. Meanwhile, the Mexican president berated America for helping a NGO who criticized his administration.

Zúñiga had a rough start with El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele, who bristled at criticism of his government’s tightening grip on power. And the Biden administration has given prominence to Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras, who is accused in a court case in New York of accepting bribes from drug traffickers. the WE-The Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act empowers the State Department to identify corrupt officials and deny them entry to America. Several names have been added to the list, including Mr Bukele’s chief of staff. The problem, warns Andrew Selee of the Migration Policy Institute, is that “in contexts where corruption is necessary to get things done, no one has their hands clean.”

For more information on Joe Biden’s presidency, visit our dedicated hub

This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the title “Foreign Domestic Policy”


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