Central America

(John Moore/Getty Images)

Given its proximity to the U.S. and the large numbers of immigrants that leave the region for the U.S. each year, Central America figures to be a key area of priority for the Biden administration. In particular, Biden will focus on the so-called “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Whereas President Trump aimed xenophobic rhetoric and harsh immigration restrictions at people coming to the U.S. from Central America, Biden plans to take a different approach. He hopes to address and solve the issue of undocumented immigration by dealing directly with its root causes: push factors.

These causes include rampant poverty, systemic political corruption, gang violence, and stagnant economies in the immigrants’ home countries. Biden is seeking to do this by investing $4 billion over four years to strengthen civil society, root out corruption, and promote political stability in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. This will not only create goodwill with the U.S.’ southern neighbors, but will also improve living standards for tens of millions of people living in the Northern Triangle. Moreover, Biden hopes it will stanch undocumented immigration to the U.S. in a humanitarian way.

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The Triangle Countries: Honduras

The Trump administration took a hard stance on immigration and cracking down on corruption in Central America; but the Biden administration will reverse many of the Trump-era policies in an attempt to strength the stability of Honduras and the region, generally. And while immigration, corruption and rule of law are all important contributing factors that will influence Biden’s engagement with Honduras, there is an urgent need to create economic opportunities within the country and work bilaterally to promote positive economic growth.

Honduras has been hit especially hard during COVID-19 pandemic, with a loss of almost 11% of its gross domestic product. In addition, the country was rocked by two devastating back-to-back hurricanes, Eta and Iota, in late 2020. These natural disasters, coupled with a public health crises, has crippled Honduras’ economic and social stability — both of which are influencing factors in immigration.

There is a promising future for relations between Biden and the Honduras’ President Juan Orlando Hernández. Hernandez immediately congratulated Biden and said that, “you can count with our sustained commitment and political will to do as much as we can to progress all the priorities for the well-being of our peoples.” But the president of Honduras is currently being investigated for involvement in drug trafficking. This may complicate matters, as Biden said corruption would be at the heart of U.S. policy in Central America.

These priorities will include fighting against drug dealing, revoking visas and freezing assets of corrupt officials, and improving immigration policies to ensure safe conditions for migrants.

The Triangle Countries: Guatemala

Guatemala remains an important country in the Northern Triangle, and stability in the country of will allow for greater stability in the region. Biden will need to focus on many things that the Trump administration failed to address in U.S.-Guatemala relations.

The new administration will likely look to revoke visas and freeze assets of corrupt officials, as well as address food insecurity and social upheaval so as to provide stability to country’s Western Highlands. The most important task ahead is to enable the government of Honduras the resources to provide successful futures for their own people. Biden pledged to do this on the campaign trail, promising a $4 billion aid package for Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in order to improve in-country circumstances.

The Triangle Countries: El Salvador

Addressing El Salvador’s steep history of human rights and rule of law will be a priority for Biden in a way that was not during the Trump era. President Nayib Bukele was quick to embrace Trump’s hardline immigration policies and went so far as to restrict asylum for his own people. Within El Salvador, there are major concerns over democracy and the tough approach by the government. In particular, the issues of uncontrolled gang violence and systemic corruption remain have increased since the country’s bloody civil war in 1992. These two issues will dominate U.S.-El Salvador relations.

The Biden administration has already laid out the ways in which it will take a harsh stance on these key concerns but allow for better immigration practices. Biden announced that he would reverse the Trump administration policy on temporary protected status, providing the immigration program again for El Salvadorans. In addition, the new administration has made it clear that any leader unwilling to tackle corruption won’t be considered an ally.

There will most likely be significant challenges for the Biden administration in dealing with Bukele, already shown in Biden’s refusal to meet with him during an unannounced trip to Washington. He did not want a meeting to be used as a show of support before the legislative elections in El Salvador. Some experts and media analysts have categorized Bukele as an authoritarian, and that upcoming elections in the small country will influence the White House’s foreign policy priorities, including migration, security, corruption and democracy.

Additional Reading

  • “The Biden plan to build security and prosperity in partnership with the people of Central America” — Biden/Harris Campaign Site
  • “Central American leaders hope to develop common agenda with Biden” — Voice of America
  • “Joe Biden’s immigration bill aims to address the root causes of migration. Will it work? — TIME