International Justice Mission Cuts One-Third of Its Staff in Guatemala Amid Concerns That Trump Administration Will Stop Aid to Central America

The Christian advocacy group International Justice Mission, which fights sex trafficking and works to improve justice systems in countries where it operates, cut about one-third of its staff in Guatemala in anticipation of cuts to Central American aid by the U.S. State Department. 

Officials with the NGO recently spoke with The Christian Post about the impact that planned cuts by the Donald Trump administration has had on funding for its work in Guatemala and El Salvador, two of the three Northern Triangle countries where people have fled by the tens of thousands to the U.S. southern border in recent years.

While IJM’s work in El Salvador started just last year, the organization began operating in Guatemala in 2005 and has helped the nation’s prosecutors, police and judges implement better practices and procedures allowing them to deal more effectively with cases involving sexual violence against children.

The work of IJM and its partners to train specialized police forces, judges and prosecutors has led to the adopting of a more victim-sensitive environment in the justice system throughout Guatemala.

As a result, the country’s justice system has seen a tripling in the number of verdicts reached in cases of sexual violence against children, according to data from an IJM endline study released in 2018 that was compared with a baseline study conducted in 2012.

That same study, which was based on database reports from the Guatemala Public Ministry, also found a 157 percent increase in the number of indictments related to sexual violence against children cases.

“In 2016, we received a grant from the U.S. Department of State to expand that [work] further to other areas of Guatemala that we had not been working in and also to equip other organizations in those areas to do a similar model that IJM has,” Erin Payne, IJM’s regional program manager for Latin America, told CP.

“With the support of the U.S. government, we have been able to expand upon the successful program and truly seeing this transformational for Guatemala in the areas of IJM’s focus.”

IJM has hopes to expand upon its work in Guatemala to include sexual violence against women. Since its founding in Guatemala, IJM has helped nearly 1,000 survivors of sexual abuse and has partnered with over 350 Catholic and evangelical churches in the country.

But now, Payne said IJM’s momentum has slowed down a bit as the organization has been anticipating the impact of Trump’s vow to cut aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

In March, Trump ordered about $600 million in aid to three Northern Triangle countries to be cut in an attempt to force those governments to stop the flow of migrants to the U.S. southern border.

But in June, the State Department said that after a review of over 700 projects, it would move forward with $400 million in grants and project funding that had been approved while escrowing about $200 million until further consultation with Congress.

According to the Associated Press, the $400 million in funding for Central America comes from the 2017 budget and will be spent on anti-crime efforts that many believe will help reduce the flow of migrants to the U.S. southern border. The $400 million will also be spent on poverty alleviation programs, health and education.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith