Central and South America
In recent years, migration from Central and South America, in particular from the Northern Triangle countries—Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador—and Venezuela, has increased significantly. This fact has been a focus of the Trump Administration’s immigration and foreign policy. In addition to being cruel and inhumane, however, the Trump Administration’s policies have been equally ineffective.
The Trump Administration has focused on increasing the barriers to successful migration and the costs associated with it: working with Mexico to increase apprehensions before migrants reach the U.S. border, detaining and deporting migrants without hearings, limiting the ability of migrants to apply for asylum, and, most cruelly of all, separating families apprehended at the border. The Trump Administration has also significantly increased funding for detention and border security in the U.S., along with nearly $100 million in funding for Mexico for apprehension efforts.
This focus on the “pull” factors that are thought to incentivize individuals and families to leave their homes and seek a new life in the United States misdiagnoses the problem and fails entirely to address the factors that “push” families to leave their home countries. In fact, some of President Trump’s policies—such as cutting off all aid to the Northern Triangle for failing to halt out-migration—likely worsen factors contributing to emigration. The Trump Administration has failed in its objective to curb migration from Central and South America because it has done little to address the causes of why individuals migrate in the first place. In their failure, the Trump Administration has compounded the humanitarian crisis and the suffering faced by migrants.
I believe that immigrants are one of the great strengths of our nation. I will work to ensure that our immigration system treats migrants humanely, opposing indefinite detention and family separation, and restoring and strengthening the right to seek asylum.
I also believe that the U.S. has the opportunity and responsibility to work to make sure that everyone feels safe and secure in their own home. This is why I support strengthening our partnerships with our Central and South American neighbors to help address the factors leading individuals and families to leave their communities.
This includes working to strengthen the rule of law so that governments have the capacity to hold those who commit acts of violence accountable; addressing the effects of climate change and widespread food insecurity on the region; strengthening state capacity to combat corruption and aid economic development; and encouraging economic activity and private investment to achieve stable growth and alleviate poverty.
Experience of violence or threats of violence is one of the primary factors driving emigration from Central America, particularly from El Salvador and Honduras, as well as from some South American countries, including Colombia. The current U.S. policy doctrine guiding U.S. engagement and aid in the region, the U.S. Strategy for Engagement Central America, rightly prioritizes strengthening the rule of law, professionalizing the police forces and civil service to root out corruption, and combating drug trafficking as measures to reduce violence. However, I believe that we need to adjust our foreign policy to address new developments in crime victimization. For instance, the overall murder rate in the region has declined in recent years, yet certain types of violence are on the rise, including femicide—which in some countries has become the main cause of death for women—and anti-LGBTQ+ violence. In Guatemala, indigenous families are at particular risk of violence. I support targeting aid to local organizations invested in combating gender and indigenous violence. I also support holding governments accountable for investigating incidents of femicide, domestic abuse, and anti-LGBTQ+ violence.
While violence is a widely recognized cause of migration, particularly from Central America, it is by no means the only one. The effects of climate change and food insecurity in the region are also significant drivers of migration. Despite their urgency, these factors have been ignored in U.S. foreign policy.
Significant areas of Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, known as the Dry Corridor, are highly susceptible to droughts and natural disasters that disrupt food supplies and cause severe economic insecurity, ultimately leading to internal and external migration. Guatemala and Honduras have been particularly hard hit by severe and persistent, multi-year droughts. The Global Hunger Index estimates that 1 in 6 Guatemalans are undernourished. The World Food Programme (WPF) estimates that between 50% to two-thirds of Dry Corridor residents are unemployed, largely due to drought and crop loss, and that of households from the Dry Corridor with a recently emigrated family member, nearly 50% were food insecure. For societies with a quarter of the population employed in agriculture, the effects of drought, crop loss, and water shortages on the economy and on food security are immense.
Despite the severity of these challenges, the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America, which has been in place since 2014, fails to address food insecurity or the effects of climate change and natural disasters on the region. Any plan to ease emigration and promote economic development must focus on combating the adverse effects of climate change in the region. I support partnering with our Latin American neighbors to invest in improved natural resource management systems, such as agroforestry techniques. Agroforestry can help protect soil and crops from extreme weather and provide cleaner water, supporting more stable production to improve food security, economic livelihoods, health, and climate resilience. We should also invest in the multilateral efforts led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN to prevent and address disaster risks, particularly in the Dry Corridor. Addressing and mitigating climate change must be a central pillar of our foreign policy in Central and South America.
Improving resource management systems also requires investing in water supply and sanitation. Despite rich freshwater reserves, Central and South America are home to vast inequities in access to water and sanitation, with rural areas particularly affected. Lack of access to water impacts food supply, agricultural production, and health, and poor sanitation is estimated to cost 2-3% in yearly GDP. A foreign policy that seeks to reduce inequality and increase prosperity must include a focus on promoting access to water and sanitation. This also requires holding corporations and the wealthy accountable for monopolizing, diverting or disrupting water supplies. Addressing and mitigating climate change and improving environmental stewardship must be a central pillar of our foreign policy in Central and South America.
We must be unafraid to call out government and electoral corruption and human rights abuses in Latin America and around the globe. We must also, however, ensure that our response to such violations is appropriately targeted. I support lifting blanket sanctions and trade restrictions on Venezuela. These sanctions are compounding the humanitarian crisis, making it harder to acquire adequate medical supplies, worsening already severe shortages, and crippling the government’s already limited ability to deliver social services. The Covid-19 pandemic will only worsen this dynamic, and continued sanctions will make it harder to effectively respond to the crisis. However, while I believe the sanctions policy is harmful to our goals, our history of misguided intervention in the region should not stop us from condemning authoritarian governments whose endemic corruption has generated an economic crisis so severe that nearly 1 in 3 Venezuelan citizens are without adequate nutrition.
Finally, if we are truly serious in combating corruption and human rights abuses in Central and South America, I believe we must lead by example. I will fight to end the human rights abuses at our Southern border and to aggressively combat corruption within our own government.
Ultimately, we are strengthened as a nation when our neighbors are secure. I believe we must reinvest in our partnerships with our neighbors in Latin America to create the conditions in which everyone has the freedom and security to live their lives without violence, with sufficient food and water, and with stable and lasting economic opportunity.
While I believe that the U.S. must honor and strengthen its relationships with our strategic, historic, and economic allies, I also believe that re-centering human rights as a focal point in foreign policy must be a top priority.
I believe in the right of all people to live their lives free of discrimination and violence based on race, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, political opinion, or nation of origin. I believe the U.S. has a fundamental duty to promote values of equality around the globe. Not only do we have this obligation, but our nation is strengthened when we commit to protect the fundamental rights of citizens around the world.
Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has failed to uphold this commitment, both by its actions abroad and at home. We must act to restore our reputation as a nation committed to individual freedoms and equality.
We can do this in multiple ways. First, we should use our contributions to bilateral and multilateral international aid to promote equality. This means ensuring that aid goes to local organizations and businesses that are committed to anti-discrimination practices. I also believe that we should prioritize aid to local organizations that actively promote equality.
Aid can be a particularly useful tool to promote gender equality worldwide. I believe that achieving gender equality and a world free from gender-based violence and exploitation requires the economic and political empowerment of women and girls. Women must be able to work outside the home, own their own businesses, earn the equal wages for equal work, vote, run for political office, and have bodily autonomy. However, underinvestment in women and girls around the world impedes their exercise of these basic rights and obstructs their advancement. Our bilateral and multilateral aid initiatives can help bridge these gaps and remove these barriers. For example, women are more underbanked than men, making it harder for women to access financial services and credit required to fully participate in the global economy. U.S. aid can target women entrepreneurs with business loans and digital financial services. The U.S. can also support educational initiatives like the World Bank’s Learning for All program, which aims to expand access to and improve the quality of education and seeks to shrink and ultimately close the gender gap in educational achievement that holds women and girls back around the world.
In Congress, I will work to ensure that the human rights bureau at the State Department and the human rights division of USAID are fully funded and empowered to advance equality globally. I will also fight to maintain our commitments to multilateral institutions like the UN, the World Bank, and the World Health Organization that work to protect human rights and alleviate inequality.
Second, we need to call out and condemn human rights abuses as they occur. One of the most glaring human rights violations today is the surveillance, detention, forced reeducation, and forced labor of the Uighurs, Kazahks and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, China. While I support the State and Commerce Departments’ initiatives to restrict visas for Xinjiang officials deemed responsible for abuses and restrict businesses involved in the detention and surveillance of Muslims in China, the Trump Administration must do more to pressure China to end these abuses. We cannot let the prospect of a trade deal interfere with our commitment to religious freedom and all human rights.
Moreover, in countries around the globe, LGBTQ+ individuals are facing oppression and — often, deadly — violence. Deadly hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community in El Salvador have been on the rise recently, with trans women at particular risk. In Chechnya, police officials continue to detain and abuse gay men, and Ugandan police arrest individuals suspected of violating a ban on homosexual activity. I have worked to protect the rights of gay and trans individuals here at home, and I will continue to center the LGBTQ+ community in my global human rights advocacy.
Finally, we must work to rectify human rights abuses here at home, which violate our values and weaken our global standing. Some of the most flagrant violations involve our border patrol and immigration detention systems. We must end now and forever the inhumane separation of immigrant families detained at our borders, and we must fund the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services to track and reunite families that have been and continue to be detained and separated since the start of the Trump Administration. We must also investigate and end the abuses at border patrol centers that have left individuals without adequate food, water, or medical supplies, and in six incidents led to the deaths of detained migrant children. Those responsible must be held to account. Now, under the guise of protecting the country from COVID-19, the Trump Administration has turned back migrants, including unaccompanied children, exercising their right to seek asylum. In Congress, I will also work to strengthen our asylum laws and ensure the right to all refugees to seek asylum from violence at our borders. No president should be allowed to ignore or selectively apply our immigration laws to accomplish his misguided political agenda. Immigrants and refugees enrich our country and we must fight to preserve their dignity while upholding our laws.
While we work to advance equality for LGBTQ+ people everywhere, we must also undo the discrimination enabled by the Trump Administration here at home. I support passing the Equality Act which will extend existing civil rights laws to include protections against discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual identity or sexual orientation.
I believe that the United States is strengthened when we work actively to uphold our values of freedom from discrimination and violence. We must take steps to live out these values through global diplomacy and at home.
For decades, the United States and Israel have represented a strong, united alliance in both the Middle East and beyond. In a region where too many people live under oppression and without basic freedoms, Israel has long stood as a beacon of liberal democracy. Our two countries are part of the same family of nations that recognize the rights of every citizen regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. We believe in a free press and the rule of law. We believe in leaving a safer, healthier, and more just world for our children. We understand the importance of the land of Israel to the Jewish people.
It is vital to the national interests of both Israel and the United States that our two countries continue to be collaborative allies. It cannot be overstated how critical our Israeli partners are in pushing back against Iranian aggression, as well as setting the example of a vibrant democracy for its neighbors. This is why we should continue to support our mutual goals for the stability of the region and its people. Movements such as Boycott, Divest, and Sanction Israel (BDS) only serve to further the conflict, elevate the violence, and harm those they seek to help. That is why I will always oppose BDS.
It is my firm belief that the Palestinian people’s national aspirations are just, and that the United States must be a partner in realizing a modern, prosperous Palestine. That is why I support a two-state solution. We need to renew our focus as an international leader in peace and help end this conflict. The United States, acting as an honest broker, can help administer a bilateral solution that relies on compromises from all sides, and incorporates the most critical values and objectives shared by both peoples, most importantly, the yearning for a safe and secure homeland. I believe that the unilateral annexation of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory threatens the prospect of a peaceful two-state solution by undermining the viability and prosperity of a future Palestinian state, as well as the security and stability of the region. Both sides must do their part to reach a negotiated, peaceful solution, and unilateral action undermines the trust and cooperation necessary to achieve that goal. The most important factor in whether any peace plan can be successful, is that it is developed by the parties themselves, on equal footing, without the interference of outsiders.
There are many opportunities to ease tensions amongst the parties in this conflict, and move us closer to a peaceful resolution. By finding strategic policy reforms that ease the pressure of occupation on Palestinians, without reducing Israeli security, we can create an environment where a lasting peace has the greatest chance of success. These reforms could potentially include investing in transportation infrastructure connecting the more disparate Palestinian cities and villages in the West Bank. They could include ensuring equal labor standards and increased access to employment for Palestinians in Israeli-controlled areas, and equitable access to water in the settlements. One objective to give special attention to is expanding economic opportunities for Palestinians, such as developing additional economic zones in the West Bank, and relaxing travel restrictions within the borders of Israel and the territories, and beyond. Many of these proposals have support among Israel military and civilian authorities, lending strength to their legitimacy and possibility of success. It is critical to me, that although these reforms may seem straightforward, they must be considered through the lens of both Israeli and Palestinian security, and must ultimately be supported by the parties involved.