Poverty and conflict increase global migration

  • Between 2013 and 2017, there was a 20 percent increase in international migration due to rising poverty and conflict. 
  • Manuela Tomei, the director of the International Labor Organization’s department for work conditions and equality, has stated, “The widening of income inequalities within countries, and among countries, is a very, very important factor in explaining the reason why so many millions of people are moving across borders to find better working and living conditions.” 

Many waves of immigration to the United States have been caused by poverty, war and famine across the globe.

  • In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Great Famine, in which Ireland’s potato crop was destroyed, prompted 500,000 Irish citizens to immigrate to the U.S. Around 4.7 million Irish immigrated to the U.S. between 1820 and 1975. 
  • Immigration to the U.S. from Asia similarly increased during the 19th century. Poverty, fueled by increased unemployment in China in the early 1800s, led to a significant wave of migration. By the early 1850s, approximately 25,000 Chinese people had migrated to the United States in search of better job opportunities.  

U.S. foreign assistance is a key part of addressing the root causes of migration

Successes of U.S. Assistance to El Salvador

  • U.S. foreign assistance to El Salvador, which helped train police officers and security personnel, improve local governance, fund after-school programs and provide jobs to at-risk youth, coincides with a decrease in violence and migration.
  • In 2016, more than 72,000 Salvadorans were apprehended at the U.S. border. However, in 2018, this number had decreased to less than 32,000. 
  • There was also a significant decrease in homicides during this time. According to USAID, homicides decreased by 61 percent between 2015 and 2017 in the regions of El Salvador in which USAID was active.

Cuts in U.S. Assistance to the Northern Triangle

  • In early spring 2019, the U.S. halted aid to the Northern Triangle, which is comprised of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. 
  • Cutting aid to the Northern Triangle, which helped fight poverty, decrease violence and improve economic opportunities, had a significant impact on the people living in this region. 
  • Raúl López, El Salvador’s Vice Minister of Justice, stated, “The decision to cut funding contradicts the results of what we have accomplished together. The fact is that migration from El Salvador is declining, thanks to our work.” 
  • In the aftermath of this decision, thousands of Central Americans attempted to migrate to the United States.

“People are leaving because of failed states, and desperation and poverty and repression and lack of hope.” – Vicki Gass, the senior policy advisor for Central America and Mexico at Oxfam America. 

The Importance of Foreign Aid

While U.S. foreign assistance is not going to eliminate immigration, it is helping address the root causes of migration from Central America and other parts of the world. According to Liz Schrayer, the president of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, “One thing we should not be doing is pulling out our aid programs. If we do that, it’s only going to exacerbate the unrest. People will leave if the violence continues, if they don’t have economic opportunities and if they can’t put food on their table.”