US ‘most welcoming home for immigrants in human history,’ Pence says


Posted on: June 27th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Vice President Mike Pence offered a robust defense of the Trump administration’s immigration policies, arguing that the United States is the “most welcoming home for immigrants in human history.”

The Trump administration is committed to addressing “the root causes behind the crisis that we face,” he said Tuesday, referring to the efforts of migrants, mostly from Central America, to cross into the U.S. illegally. In particular, he touted the administration’s deployment of “significant resources,” and issued a warning to migrants: “If you can’t come legally, don’t come at all.”

But the Trump administration has actually slashed foreign assistance to three Central American countries, eliminated certain programs that brought people to the U.S. legally, and ended a public relations campaign that advertised the same warning to families.

Specifically, Pence cited $2.6 billion in aid to those countries, but this was money appropriated under the Obama administration.

Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are three Central American countries, often called the “Northern Triangle,” that struggle with poverty, violence, and corruption — the harsh realities that drive so many to risk their lives and money to travel to the U.S.-Mexican border. As the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection told ABC News on Monday, dealing with these motivating issues must be part of the policy solution.

“We need to widen our lens,” Kevin McAleenan said. “We’re not thinking about what’s happening on the Central American side — how do we engage with those governments to support prosperity, governance and security so that people don’t feel compelled to leave their homes?”

Speaking in Brazil on a trip through Latin America, Pence said the administration was doing just that: “Under President Trump, the United States is renewing our commitment to address the root causes behind the crisis that we face. At this moment, the United States has invested significant resources already to help Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador stop the flow of drugs and cripple the criminal syndicates that plague the region.”

But according to statistics published by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Trump administration has been spending less on foreign assistance to these three countries.

In the fiscal year 2017, the U.S. spent $103.17 million in El Salvador, $214.71 million in Guatemala and $146.93 million in Honduras, according to ForeignAssistance.gov, a website run by the State Department’s Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources.

That stands in stark contrast to the fiscal year 2018. Although there are three months left, so far the U.S. has only spent $16.2 million in El Salvador, $43.25 million in Guatemala and $20.03 million in Honduras.

Even compared to what the U.S. “planned” to spend in fiscal year 2018, there is a significant drop. According to the State Department, the U.S. plans to spend $46.3 million in El Salvador, $80.66 million in Guatemala and $67.85 million in Honduras.

Pence mentioned one funding number, saying the U.S. had “devoted more than $2.6 billion over the last four years.” But that was money appropriated by the Obama administration for fiscal years 2015-2018, not new funding under the Trump administration.

The Trump administration has consistently called for other countries to carry more of the financial burden, saying it’s not fair to American taxpayers otherwise, even when it is to the benefit of U.S. national interests.

Pence repeated that line Tuesday, saying, “The United States cannot do this alone. I will deliver this message personally to the leaders of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador when we meet in Guatemala City on Thursday.”

Pence also warned migrants “straight from my heart” not to leave their home countries despite the violence and poverty, saying, “Don’t risk your lives or the lives of your children by trying to come to the United States on the road run by drug smugglers and human traffickers. If you can’t come legally, don’t come at all.”

But the Trump administration has made it more difficult to enter the U.S. legally for many.

In particular, the administration ended the Central American Minors program last year, which brought more than 3,200 children and other eligible family members to the U.S. as refugees or parolees. The program was started in 2014 by the Obama administration as the U.S. faced a surge of children crossing the border — over 50,000 that year alone.

Designed to give families a safer, legal alternative, it allowed a parent legally residing in the U.S. to apply for their child, their child’s other parent or caregiver, or their child’s child to join them in America after passing through a series of hurdles — background checks, medical exams, payments and interviews.

In January 2017 — just days into office — the administration moved to shut down the program even though it did not notify applicants and recipients who had been approved. Eight months later in August, it rescinded that approval for about 2,714 children and family members, who are now left stuck in their home country.

Venezuela was also added to President Trump’s third travel ban, and perhaps because of it, 2017 saw a dip in the number of nonimmigrant visas granted to Venezuelans: While there were 237,926 in 2015 and 156,361 in 2016, there were only 56,720 in 2017.

While Pence also urged Central Americans to stay in their home country, that may not be a message that as many heard in recent years: U.S. Customs and Border Protection had launched a series of Spanish-language ads to urge would-be migrants “against the unnecessary loss of life, extortion, and educate individuals on the hazards and dangers migrants endure on their journey to the north by the hands of human smugglers, traffickers and transnational criminal organizations,” the agency told ABC News.

But those public awareness campaigns are not running anymore. They were cut.

On Thursday, Pence and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will meet with the presidents of Guatemala and Honduras, and the vice president of El Salvador.

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