Kushner Seeks Investors to Help Curb Central America Migration

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(Bloomberg) -- White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is organizing an investment conference in Mexico City, aiming to pair private money with foreign aid for Central America that his father-in-law President Donald Trump froze as punishment for the region’s high level of migration to the U.S.

Planners hope to hold the conference in late March or April, according to four people familiar with the matter. The event would also involve the governments of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador pledging to enact unspecified business-friendly policies, according to one of the people.

The people asked not to be identified because the conference hasn’t been announced.

The White House’s hope is that fresh investment and aid to the three countries would serve as both reward for their governments’ cooperation with Trump’s push to stem the flow of migrants and incentive for citizens of the region to stay in their home countries. It’s also an attempt to reframe the provision of U.S. foreign aid, an expenditure Trump has often dismissed as wasteful.

The Mexican Finance Ministry and Foreign Ministry have been heavily involved in the planning, as has the U.S. Treasury Department, according to two of the people.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said last March that the U.S. and Mexico were working toward an agreement that would yield $10 billion in development assistance for Mexico and Central America.

There has already been substantial response from private investors Kushner has solicited to participate, one of the people said. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is considering attending.

Spokespeople for the Mexican Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

Frozen Aid

Trump suspended more than $500 million in development assistance for the Central American countries last March amid a surge in migration that saw the number of people from the region crossing the U.S. border reach its highest level in more than a decade. The administration later authorized the release of some of the frozen aid for counter-narcotics and anti-gang programs, as well as assistance resettling refugees, after the countries negotiated with the U.S. to cooperate on reducing migration and accepting the return of people caught crossing the border without authorization.

While the lure of unfreezing U.S. aid could provide an incentive for Central American governments and private investors to participate in the conference, similar Kushner-led efforts have stumbled before. He helped organize an investment conference in Bahrain last year intended to build momentum for Trump’s Middle East peace plan that saw participation by a number of international business figures but drew little buy-in from regional leaders.

The Bahrain “Peace to Prosperity” event was intended to identify $50 billion for new investment, infrastructure and tourism in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and nearby Arab countries. But it was boycotted by Palestinian leaders, who said they would refuse American financial aid without an agreement for a Palestinian state.

‘America Crece’

In advance of the Mexico City conference, senior U.S. officials have sought to engage business leaders across the region as part of the administration’s “Growth in the Americas” or “America Crece” initiative, which was announced in 2018 and expanded last year. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted an event in December that saw senior officials from seven Cabinet agencies meet with business and political leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean.

The State Department has said the administration is particularly focused on investments in critical infrastructure, including energy, airports, ports, roads, telecom and digital networks.

Separately, Kushner has recently met with business and conservative leaders to try to resuscitate a proposed overhaul of the U.S. immigration system, National Public Radio reported earlier this month. A plan he announced in May 2019 would rank aspiring U.S. immigrants by metrics including age, English proficiency and whether they had offers of employment at certain wage levels or in specialty fields.

But the plan ignored key Democratic priorities, including providing legal status to migrants known as “Dreamers” who were brought into the country illegally as children. The initiative has been largely ignored on Capitol Hill and has failed to gain traction as a campaign issue.

To contact the reporters on this story: Justin Sink in Washington at jsink1@bloomberg.net;Eric Martin in Mexico City at emartin21@bloomberg.net;Saleha Mohsin in Washington at smohsin2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net, Gregory Mott

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