Only a Rethinking of U.S. Foreign Policy Can Address the ‘Root Causes’ of Migration


Win Without War, Michael Galant, [email protected], +1 (203) 260-4654
Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), [email protected]

Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES)Win Without WarSisters of Mercy of the Americas – Justice Team, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), the Central American Resource Center – Los Angeles (CARECEN-LA) and the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), released the following joint statement regarding today’s executive orders on asylum and migration from the Biden administration. This statement builds on a joint letter by over 75 organizations earlier this month: 

The migration crisis does not begin at the U.S. border. When millions of people are forced to leave their homes in pursuit of a better life elsewhere or for their own survival, we must ask why. With today’s executive orders, the Biden administration addresses this question, recognizing that many of the migrants traveling to the United States are motivated by spiraling poverty, inequality, and violence. Confronting the root causes of migration is the right approach.

Yet we fear that the Biden administration’s plans will not go far enough. To truly address the root causes of displacement in Central America and beyond, we must recognize the United States’ own role in fueling inequality, poverty, and violence.

The intersecting crises that millions in Central America face are the result of decades of brutal state repression of democratic movements by right-wing regimes and the implementation of economic models designed to benefit local oligarchs and transnational corporations. Far too often, the United States has been a major force behind these policies, which have impoverished the majority of the population and devastated the environment.

Any plan of financial assistance is therefore of questionable benefit so long as the United States’ long-standing posture toward the region remains unchanged. We are particularly concerned about policy in the following areas:

  • Militarized security policy — The training and arming of human rights-abusing security forces continues to fuel state repression and widespread impunity. The United States should suspend military and police assistance to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador and end U.S. training of their militaries, police, and other security forces.
  • Extractive economic policy — Through trade and investment agreements like DR-CAFTA, multilateral development bank loans, and more, the United States has promoted a development model that prioritizes corporate profits over the needs of the people and the environment. The United States should reorient its approach to align with the calls from agricultural movements, environmental defenders, and labor unions to invest in sustainable development and ensure that development projects do not harm or infringe on the autonomy of Indigenous communities. Directing higher levels of economic and humanitarian assistance through multilateral institutions that have a more trusted and proven track-record in the region, such as agencies within the United Nations, would help accomplish this goal.
  • Cold War geopolitics — U.S. policy toward Central America too often seeks to undermine and isolate progressive governments, while backing right-wing forces regardless of their records of corruption or human rights abuse. A new approach must uphold consistent, non-ideological standards for democracy and good governance as a basis for policy decisions. Rather than seeking to define domestic policy in Central America, the United States should adopt a new position of respect for democratic self-determination.

We applaud the Biden administration’s willingness to think of migration in terms of root causes and urge it to go deeper. Confronting displacement demands a total rethinking of U.S. foreign policy. Two weeks ago, more than 75 organizations, including many faith-based groups with a long history of accompaniment in Central America, signed a letter calling for just that. Moving forward, we encourage the Biden administration to heed that call.


Win Without War is a diverse network of activists and national organizations working for progressive foreign policy in the United States.

CISPES is a grassroots solidarity organization that has been supporting the Salvadoran people’s struggle for social and economic justice since 1980.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research was established in 1999 to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people’s lives.

The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) is a national network organizing day laborers, migrants, and low-wage workers in order to protect and expand their civil, labor and human rights.

Central American Resource Center (CARECEN-LA) is the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to immigration legal services in Los Angeles. Since 1983, it has led national and local organizing campaigns to advocate for Central American refugees, workers, and immigrants’ rights. 

Sisters of Mercy of the Americas-Justice Team based in Washington, DC advocates on behalf of the social justice priorities of the Sisters of Mercy who serve throughout the U.S. and Latin America.