Thursday, October 10, 2019

America’s Hot & Cold Relationship with the Northern Triangle: More Aid is Needed

Guest blogger: April Calvo-Perez, law student, University of San Francisco

The United States has had a very interesting relationship with Central America for decades. The United States government had supported development in the region after its awful civil conflicts, but soon lost interest, allowing for corruption and dysfunction to flourish in the region once more.[1]

In recent years, our country has been bombarded with headlines regarding the region yet again. News channels have shined a light on the immense number of migrants that have come to the United States from Central American countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Decades ago, the average American assumed that people from these countries simply fled the region in pursuit of a better life. Nowadays, the massive influx of migrants from the Northern Triangle, as it has come to be known, has shown Americans the raw and pervasive violence and poverty that has pushed thousands of people out of Central America.

Leaving the Northern Triangle entails enduring a treacherous journey to get to the United States.[2] However, thousands of migrants are prepared to endure the journey in order to escape the even more perilous conditions of their home countries. All three countries in the Northern Triangle are ranked amongst the top 10 nations globally for homicide, drug trafficking, gang violence, and corruption.[3] Due to these conditions, many migrants from the Northern Triangle have actually surrendered themselves to border patrol – radically different from past trends of migration which had migrants often attempting to cross the border without inspection.[4]

While groups of migrants fleeing the region have been largely made up of families, 2014 brought a new focus: unaccompanied minors.[5] This new challenge brought forth the realization that “U.S. national security interests, including controlling migration, were and are linked directly to progress in development, citizen security, and strengthened governance in the Northern Triangle.”[6] If the U.S. wants to receive less migrants from the Northern Triangle, it is going to need to steer its efforts toward developing the countries’ infrastructures in order to better society and the economy. Unfortunately, the Trump administration decided to cut millions of dollars in aid to the countries of the Northern Triangle earlier this year.[7] The administration has given the Northern Triangle a sort of ultimatum, saying that they will only receive aid if they take concrete steps to reduce the wave of migrants coming to the U.S. [8]

However, the Trump administration should take caution. If the administration is seeking to minimize the number of immigrants coming from the region, shouldn’t it be providing more aid? It is irrational to believe that cutting millions in aid will cause the countries to step-it-up. People flee these countries out of desperation; these people are seeking a safe, productive environment for themselves and their families. If Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans could secure employment and be confident that they will not be subject to violence or governmental corruption, then thousands would remain in their home countries. My hope is that the U.S. will actively support these countries instead. However, it seems that we all just have to wait and see what will happen as immigration reform continues to unfold before us.  


[1] For details on where the Northern Triangle has been and will be affected by U.S. Policy, please see Mark L. Schneider and Michael A. Matera, Where are the Northern Triangle Countries Headed? And What is U.S. Policy? Center for Strategic & International Studies (August 20, 2019),

[2] For more information on the current state of the “Northern Triangle,” see Amelia Cheatham, Central America’s Turbulent Northern Triangle, Council on Foreign Relations (October 1, 2019),

3 See What Drives Violence in Central America’s Northern Triangle? Understanding and Addressing Conflict, Instability, Immigration, United States Institute of Peace (September 25, 2018),

4 Amelia Chetham, Central America’s Turbulent Northern Triangle,

[5] See Mark L. Schneider and Michael A. Matera, Where are the Northern Triangle Countries Headed? And What is U.S. Policy?

[6] Id.

[7] See Lesley Wroughton and Patricia Zengerle, As Promised, Trump Slashes Aid to Central America over Migrants, Thomson Reuters (June 17, 2019),

[8] See Pamela Ren Larson, Trump’s Plan to Cut Aid to Central America Could Push More Migrants to Come to U.S., USA Today (September 23, 2019),


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