CRS President: The Fear of Starvation Drives the Central American Exodus

Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, writes:

Perhaps even more than the threat of gang violence, fear of starvation is motivating the current wave of migration to the U.S. southern border. The surge is coming largely from rural parts of Central America, especially Guatemala, where drought has killed the corn and beans people grow to eat. Their coffee bean harvest brought them the lowest prices in 12 years.

It’s critical to understand the specific root cause of this latest exodus from Central America. When we do, we can see how counterproductive the proposal is to cut off all foreign aid to the region. Without this relatively small bit of assistance, even more poor rural families will succumb to desperation, and will migrate north. They will do whatever it takes to survive. Hunger does that.

This past autumn, I visited with farmers in the dry corridor of Central America, so-called because prolonged droughts and subsequent flooding increasingly plague the region. In Guatemala, where lack of rain is at crisis levels, farmers showed me their maize and bean crops which had grown to four or five inches, then simply wilted and died. Most farms in this region went more than 40 days without rain during the last growing season….

For years, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have understood foreign aid is a cost-effective and wise investment. In fact, Congress cast bipartisan votes twice to ensure assistance continues at a level that protects and saves lives, and reduces migration pressures. I urge Congress to stand fast again.

We are one humanity struggling with hostile forces both natural and financial. Let us extend our hearts and our aid to our neighbors in the Americas.