WASHINGTON — The United States, joining an effort by Mexico, will commit to investing billions in Central America in hopes of ending the poverty, violence and drug-trafficking that are driving thousands of people in the region to undertake the difficult trek to the United States’ southern border, the State Department announced on Tuesday.
Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, introduced what he called a “Marshall Plan” last week to address the root causes of Central American migration: a $30 billion initiative to invest in the region and welcome migrants into Mexico with visas, health care and employment.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration signaled its support for the plan, saying it was committing $5.8 billion in private and public investments in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Much of that amount, however, was previously committed or contingent on the identification of “commercially viable projects.”
The promise comes amid tensions between the administration and Mexico over a caravan of migrants traveling from Central America, with President Trump pushing Mexico to allow those seeking asylum in the United States to remain in Mexico while they wait.
The United States “welcomes the historic commitment by the government of Mexico to development in southern Mexico and to promote our shared goals with the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras,” the State Department said in a statement. “Furthermore, the United States also wishes to recognize Mexico’s willingness to develop a framework to ensure migration occurs in a legal, orderly and safe manner.”
Although Mr. Obrador’s goal of getting $30 billion in shared commitments to regional development remains far-off, Mexico welcomed the United States’ announcement.
“This appears to us to be a very positive step,” Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister and one of the chief architects of the regional development proposal, said shortly after the announcement by the State Department.
The Obama administration invested heavily in Central America, hoping that economic development, police training and a shared sense of commitment would stem a growing tide of migrants — children in particular — traveling through Mexico to get to the United States.
The programs are widely seen as successful, and American diplomats posted in the region consider them vital.
But Mr. Trump has, on occasion, threatened to end all such aid unless migration from the region ends entirely, something few diplomats see as possible.
The Trump administration has also repeatedly sought to cut foreign aid in general, only to see it restored by Congress, and there was little about Tuesday’s announcement that suggested that dynamic would change. Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, is particularly skeptical of the value of foreign aid, and he is becoming only more powerful — he was recently named acting White House chief of staff.
“Since President Trump took office, Congress has rejected his misguided effort to slash foreign assistance to Central America,” Representative Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of New York, who is expected to lead the House Foreign Affairs Committee next year, said on Tuesday.
“So it should come as no surprise,” he added, “that Democrats in Congress are skeptical about the Trump administration’s rhetorical commitment to new funding for Central America and southern Mexico to address the root causes of child migration.”
Although the United States has sought in recent weeks to reset its relationship with Mexico, the two sides remain at odds over a central priority of Mr. Trump’s — building a wall along their shared border. He has threatened to shut down the government this year if Congress does not give him $5 billion toward construction, something Mr. Trump promised repeatedly during the 2016 campaign that Mexico would pay for.