The Real Root Cause of Central American Migration
If the Biden administration is committed to aiding the region, it must first acknowledge the destructive role of U.S. interventionism.

Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala are deploying 18,500 troops to stem migration from Central America to the United States as part of a deal the Biden administration announced April 12. In the words of the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, the agreement will ​“make it more difficult to make the journey.” It comes on the heels of the United States pledging $4 billion in development aid to address the ​“root causes” of this migration. 

This type of approach, which ties aid to securitization, has long enjoyed bipartisan support. It has also long failed to achieve the desired aim of reducing migration by reducing poverty. If President Joe Biden hopes to avoid replicating these failures, he must acknowledge that U.S. policy itself is one of those ​“root causes” of migration — and then adopt a fundamentally new approach to development aid. 

As researchers of Central American migration, we have seen firsthand how ineffective ​“development” is in addressing the needs of local communities. Frequently, aid comes with ideological strings that hinder, rather than support, local efforts to reduce poverty, corruption and insecurity. In Guatemala and Honduras, where we conduct our research, this aid is often siphoned off to subcontractors and organizations with little on-the-ground knowledge, or used to bolster military training and equipment. Not infrequently, that money finds its way directly into the hands of the same predatory elites decried by the United States as responsible for the region’s instability.