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Pence Tells Central American Leaders They Should Help Curb Migration


We're going to turn now to the issue of immigration. Today Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen are visiting Guatemala to meet with its president along with leaders of El Salvador and Honduras. Most of the migrant families apprehended lately at the U.S.-Mexico border have come from these troubled countries.

For some insight on this meeting, we're joined by Michael Shifter. He's president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank. Welcome to the studio.


CORNISH: So first give us a sense of what kind of U.S. policy was in place before the Trump administration towards these countries. Were we sending money or any kind of resource?

SHIFTER: Well, the - before the Trump administration, under the Obama administration, the Republican-controlled Congress adopted a program called the Alliance for Prosperity that's $750 million a year to - aimed at trying to reduce the violence, promote economic development and increase - strengthen institutions...

CORNISH: So going after gang violence anti-gang initiatives...


CORNISH: ...Also anti-poverty initiatives and strengthening these governments - right? - so they can take action.

SHIFTER: Correct, correct. And this was this was proposed by the Obama administration, supported by Congress. And this was an effort really to deal with the root causes about migration that were provoked because of the 2014 - the unaccompanied children across the border crisis of that summer. And this was the response to that. And the vice president, Biden, under Obama, like Vice President Pence today under President Trump, is playing a leading role in trying to deal with this situation.

CORNISH: Is that funding's still in place? What's happened since President Trump took office?

SHIFTER: There's been a reduction in funding from about the 750 million to about 600 million, and that's thanks largely to Congress that - where there is a bipartisan commitment to sustaining that support. And clearly the administration wanted sharper cuts, but the Congress came back and restored at least some level even though it's down below what was there before.

CORNISH: So while that's going on, you have this administration now going to these countries and saying, look; you need to do more to stem the flow of people who are trying to come to the U.S. illegally. Help us understand this message.

SHIFTER: Well, I think the message can be understood in the context of what's happening in the United States in domestic politics and the migration issue, which has been very, very important for this administration and telling these countries and warning these countries that they really got to get their act together, which I think is a reasonable message. But it has to be accompanied by a real level of engagement and support with these countries as well. I think...

CORNISH: But are they saying, look; we gave you money before, and you really didn't do much with it, or, you weren't effective with the resources we gave you, and we need you to step up?

SHIFTER: Yes, that's what they're saying. And President Trump himself has threatened to withhold all the aid until these governments really are able to contain the situation in their countries. But I'm not sure that that - those kind of warnings are really going to go over very well. They're not going to work. The tone and the style I think creates some resentment in the region, and clearly they're worried about what's happening to many of their - of the younger migrants that have - that are - and that have been separated from their parents on the border as well. So it's a very, very tricky situation.

CORNISH: In the short time we have left, what are you looking to hear out of these meetings in the next few days? What would be a good sign to you?

SHIFTER: Well, I would hope that the - that Vice President Pence and the Trump administration acknowledged shared responsibility for this situation. The - if this is going to be resolved, it's going to take a long time, and it means that the United States has to step up as well in terms of the - dealing with the drug problem, which is a international problem, the arms supply, which - international problem, and other issues. So both sides have to do their part.

CORNISH: That's Michael Shifter. He's president of the Inter-American Dialogue. Thank you so much.

SHIFTER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.