President Trump's newly-released budget proposal for 2018 confirms what many in Latin America have long feared: he has a negative agenda for the region, focused on building a border wall, deporting Latino immigrants and cutting foreign aid, including humanitarian assistance to Cuban and Venezuelan independent groups.
Trump's proposed budget was released May 23, while the president was making his first foreign trip as president to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Europe. Trump was the first president in recent memory who did not make his inaugural trip to either Mexico or Canada.
Former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan all made their first foreign trips to Mexico or Canada, following a tradition that started when President William Taft made his inaugural trip to Mexico in 1909.
Most former U.S. presidents picked one of those two countries because they determined, rightly, that the first national security priority for the United States should be having good relations with its neighbors.
But Trump's budget echoes his campaign's xenophobic stands. It calls for American taxpayers to pay $1.6 billion to start building a wall on the border with Mexico, which he had repeatedly promised his followers would be paid for by Mexico.
What's worse, the funds for the border wall will be a waste because the problem it intends to solve is no longer that critical. There has been a dramatic decline in the U.S. undocumented population since 2008, according to a Center for Migration Studies report.
In addition, the wall will be pretty useless because most undocumented immigrants who are still coming to the U.S. are not sneaking across the border, as Trump falsely claims. On the contrary, they arrive by plane or through border checkpoints with legal documents, and then overstay their visas.
According to a new study by Trump's own Department of Homeland Security, more than 600,000 people who came to the United States with legal tourist or student documents last year overstayed their visas.
The Department of Homeland Security has estimated the cost of Trump's border wall at $21.6 billion. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has put the figure at $69.9 billion, or enough to pay for construction of 4,100 new elementary schools.
Trump's proposed budget — which will surely be modified by Congress though no one knows to what extent — calls for cutting the U.S. State Department and USAID foreign aid budget by 32 percent, and U.S. funds for Latin America by about 36 percent.
U.S. aid to Mexico will be cut by 45 percent to $88 million, while aid to Guatemala will be reduced by 38 percent, to Honduras by 31 percent and to Haiti by 18 percent.
The cuts include almost everything, from anti-drug and law enforcement aid to education and cultural programs, officials say. Trump's proposed budget cuts would reduce funding for educational and cultural exchanges worldwide by 52 percent.
The Trump administration, which has not yet filled the position of State Department head of Western Hemisphere Affairs, has not yet made one single positive proposal for Latin America that I'm aware of.
Neither Trump nor Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have, for instance, said a word about continuing or strengthening inter-American educational initiatives, such as the 100,000 Strong in the Americas program to increase to 100,000 the number of Latin American youths studying in U.S. universities.
The Trump administration's entire rhetoric about Latin America is defensive and negative — against "bad hombres" from Mexico who come to the United States, and against supposedly "disastrous" trade deals with Canada and Mexico that in fact have helped the three countries' economies in recent decades.
My opinion: When Trump launched his campaign claiming that most undocumented immigrants from Mexico are criminals and rapists, and lashed out against free trade with America's neighbors, many thought that these stands were political posturing which would surely change if he became president.
Unfortunately, it hasn't changed much in the four months since his inauguration. Trump's decisions as president, as reflected in his 2018 budget proposal, continue to show continued disinterest bordering on disdain for Latin America.
Miami Herald | Andrés Oppenheimer