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As budget battles loom, Biden asks US Congress to approve aid for Central America

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden made a public plea to Congress Tuesday to approve $1 billion for an ambitious development plan for Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

The Obama administration hopes the plan, called the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, will address the root causes of illegal migration to the U.S. from Central America.

The plan was formulated in the wake of last year’s unprecedented exodus to the U.S. of families and children traveling alone from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Many were fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries.

In an op-ed published in The Hill, Biden said the $1 billion requested was nearly three times as much as the U.S. has allocated for Central America in recent years, but that it “pales in comparison to the costs of another generation of violence, poverty, desperation and emigration.”

He said the countries faced “formidable” challenges, but if the region’s leaders can deliver on their development plan, Central America “can become the next great success story of the Western Hemisphere.”

Biden was in Guatemala last week to discuss details of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle plan with the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

In Wednesday’s op-ed Biden said the region’s leaders had committed to creating independent auditing mechanisms by the end of 2015 to keep tabs on spending of Central American tax dollars and U.S. assistance.

He also said leaders agreed to promote a regional electricity market and complete a gas pipeline from Mexico to Central America in order to reduce energy prices.

In terms of crime and human rights, Biden said the Central American countries planned to train more police officers, work harder to help at-risk youth and crack down on domestic violence.

The U.S. vice president said the funding requested from Congress in 2016 would go toward assistance in three areas: violence prevention and training for more effective policing; good governance, especially improving tax collection and revenue management; and technical expertise in bettering the business environment in Central America — including tackling corruption — in order to attract more private investment.

“We look forward to working closely with Congress to craft the most effective assistance package,” Biden wrote.

Whether Congress will allocate the requested funds is a matter of speculation. The Republican-controlled Congress and Democratic executive office have rarely seen eye-to-eye on immigration issues in recent years.

Republican leaders have accused the Obama administration of encouraging illegal immigration with lax enforcement and its programs offering legal status for undocumented immigrants who are long-term U.S. residents, or who grew up in the U.S. after being brought to the country by their parents.

Several weeks ago Republicans nearly shut down the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, largely over Obama’s immigration policies.

Other major budget battles are looming, which could put funding for Central America on the backburner.


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