Illegal immigrants deported from the U.S. back to Central America are greeted back home with toilet paper, school supplies and Barbie doll-style toys, paid for by American taxpayers and designed to make reintegration easier.
Over the past four years, taxpayers have shelled out $27 million to help deportees sent back to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, the Government Accountability Office said in a new report Friday detailing the assistance.
But the government can’t say whether the assistance, doled out by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is meeting its goals, the GAO concluded.
“USAID has not assessed the effectiveness of reintegration efforts conducted to date. Reintegration is a long-term process and many of the reintegration assistance programs are just beginning,” the audit found.
While most of the debate in the U.S. is on migrants arriving, the other side of the equation is the relatively small share the government does manage to deport.
According to GAO statistics, Border Patrol agents caught about 200,000 illegal immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in 2017, but deported just 75,000 people back to those countries — a removal rate of less than 38 percent.
Of those who were sent back, the U.S. has made a goal of trying to ease their path back into their home societies.
That could become a much bigger issue in the future should the Trump administration win a court case and follow through on its plans to end special humanitarian protections for hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans and Hondurans who’ve been living in the U.S. since natural disasters nearly two decades ago.
The GAO said USAID has been working with the International Organization for Migration to try to assist the local governments who try to welcome their citizens back.
Reception centers and shelters have been set up in each country, usually close to the airports and bus terminals where deportees arrive.
But the three countries’ efforts vary widely, the GAO said. El Salvador has just one reception center, but is “furthest along” of the three in its reintegration efforts because it has programs aimed at migrants whether they were children, teens or adults.
But lack of jobs and limited resources are a problem. The GAO said that one reintegration center it visited in Honduras had only a single staff member, and no psychologist to help deportees work through the upheaval.
Rep. Eliot L. Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the migrants need better individualized attention.
“The challenges facing Central American migrants who are deported back to their home countries are unimaginable. While I am pleased that U.S. investments are supporting these people immediately upon their return to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, that assistance clearly isn’t enough,” he said.
He said President Trump has a responsibility to step up nation-building in the region.
“Given the trauma that many of these people suffer — in no small part as a result of President Trump’s inhumane approach to migrants — psychosocial services for returnees must also be significantly scaled up,” he said.
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