President Donald Trump’s decision in recent months to deport more than 300,000 Central American and Caribbean immigrants will create havoc in some of Latin America’s most troubled countries, such as El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti.
It’s a short-sighted policy that – alongside Trump’s shameful campaign to deport about 700,000 “DREAMers,” young people brought to the country as children by undocumented parents – almost surely will backfire. A destabilized Central America and Haiti will only produce more illegal immigration, drug trafficking and greater violence in the region.
Even Trump’s own State Department officials have warned against the president’s moves to deport more than 57,000 Hondurans, 195,000 Salvadorans and 46,000 Haitians who enjoyed Temporary Protection Status, or TPS, according to State Department cables first disclosed by The Washington Post this week.
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Many of these TPS recipients have been living in this country and paying taxes for two decades, and have more than 270,000 U.S.-born children. They will now be separated from their children and forced to return to their native countries within the next 18 months.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., whose office disclosed the existence of the State Department cables, told me via e-mail that Trump’s decision to deport TPS recipients “runs counter our national security.” It will exacerbate these countries’ security and economic challenges, he said.
Manuel Orozco, a migration expert with the Washington D.C.-based Inter-American Dialogue, told me in a telephone interview from El Salvador that, “The return of these people to Central America and Haiti would have a devastating impact.”
These impoverished and violence-ridden countries cannot absorb the current number of youths who enter their labor markets every year. According to Orozco’s estimates, El Salvador and Honduras together create jobs for only about 10 percent of the 120,000 youths who join the labor force every year.
“Imagine what will happen if they now get tens of thousands of deportees. It will be an atomic bomb,” Orozco said.
El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti also depend heavily on remittances from their relatives in the United States. Even if the Trump administration can’t enforce all planned deportations, a decrease of remittances would badly hurt these countries’ economies.
Why is the president deporting hundreds of thousands of mostly law-abiding immigrants at a time when the U.S. economy is doing great, unemployment is at its lowest level in recent years and illegal immigration is at near historic lows?
The answer is simple: It’s vintage Trump populism. Much like Trump’s vow to build a wall on the border, it’s a measure aimed at pleasing his xenophobic – if not racist – base.
Trump is deceiving the world by saying – contrary to official U.S. government statistics – that there is an avalanche of illegal immigrants and that the U.S. border is out of control. That’s blatantly deceptive.
While there has been an increase in illegal migration over the past few months, the flow of undocumented immigrants to the United States is a very small fraction of what it was decades ago.
Apprehensions of undocumented immigrants along the Mexico border last year totaled 310,000, compared to 416,000 in 2016, 876,000 in 2007, and 1.7 million in 2000, according to U.S. Border Patrol statistics.
Sending hundreds of thousands of deportees to Central America and Haiti will only make things worse.
Instead of destabilizing America’s neighbors with phony claims of a threat of an “invasion” of illegal immigrants, the Trump administration should seek to expand free trade and investment agreements with Central America and Haiti, to promote economic development in the region. That would help these countries’ economies grow, reduce poverty and violence, and diminish pressure on their people to migrate.
But Trump is not concerned with the long-term impact of his policies, even when his own State Department experts tell him they will hurt U.S. national security. Like all populists, he takes the short-term view, seeking quick applause from his Latino-phobic followers. It’s a mistake that will haunt America for many years.
Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.