Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday announced a $950 million commitment from companies including Target Corp., Nestle SA and Columbia Sportswear to address the poverty and violence that is fueling migration from Central America.
But critics of the administration’s border policies said the strategy won’t help to slow the flow of migrants for decades, if at all.
The investments aim to create job opportunities in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, three countries that have contributed significantly to the millions of migrants crossing the southern U.S. border asking for asylum. Hondurans and Guatemalans were ranked the sixth- and seventh-largest nationalities crossing the border, according to data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“These investments have created jobs,” said Ms. Harris, who is leading the White House’s efforts to reduce migration. “These investments have allowed small businesses, which have the potential, not just in the United States but around the world and, in particular, in this region to really thrive, have access to the financial system.”
Monday’s announcement is the latest effort by the administration to encourage private-sector aid for Central America as a way to encourage people to remain in their home countries. So far, Ms. Harris’ Partnership for Central America has secured more than $4.2 billion in financing across 47 companies and organizations.
Target has promised to boost spending in the region by $300 million and to increase the use of vendors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Columbia Sportswear Company will spend $200 million to create more than 6,900 jobs in the region. Nextil will spend $40 million to build two new production facilities in Guatemala, which the White House says will create more than 1,300 direct jobs and 3,000 indirect jobs.
Other companies include Chegg, an online learning platform that pledged to teach technical skills to 100,000 young adults in Honduras by 2030, and Millicom, which will spend $350 million by 2025 to expand its mobile and broadband networks in the region.
Ms. Harris said the private-sector investments are already paying off, noting that the U.S. has seen a decline since August 2021 in encounters with migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. A senior administration official told reporters Monday that the drop was 71%.
“This gives us an indication of the positive impact our work has had thus far,” Ms. Harris said.
Analysts who study immigration are skeptical that the investments have had an immediate impact. They say investment and economic opportunity, in the long run, can reduce migration, but will not have any short-term effect on border crossings.
“Things like this take time. It’s dishonest to promote this as a short-term or even a medium-term solution to migration,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director at the Center for Immigration Studies. “Even if this succeeds, it won’t pay off for decades.”
Theresa Cardinal Brown, managing director of immigration cross-border policy for the Bipartisan Policy Center, said migrants’ reasons for leaving their home country are too myriad to be addressed by simply relying on private investment. She called on the administration to look for more solutions than just spurring companies to spend money.
“Migration is a complicated phenomenon that is going to need more than a single simplistic solution,” she said. “Investment in these countries is one necessary, but not a sufficient thing to do.”
Ms. Brown said studies show that increased economic opportunity often leads to a surge in border crossings because now migrants have the money to pay smugglers to bring them into the U.S.
Overall encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border remain near historic highs, due to surges in migration from places like Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.
People coming from Mexico and northern Central American countries made up roughly 53,000 of those encounters, or 24%. That marks a 6% decrease from December 2021.
The Biden administration has announced a variety of measures to reduce the number of illegal border crossings, amid fierce criticism from both sides of the aisle.
Those measures include barring people from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti from applying for asylum if they cross the U.S.-Mexico border without authorization, and continued enforcement of a Trump-era policy that made it easier for the U.S. to expel migrants under public health concerns.
President Biden has also proposed a rule to ban migrants from applying for asylum if they don’t receive protection in a country they first traveled through to get to the U.S.