Immigration Border Crisis News 2014: Obama Outlines Plan With Central American Leaders to Address Migrant Children
Leaders from three Central American nations met with President Obama late last week to discuss possible ways to curb the influx of unaccompanied child migrants from journeying to the United States, as well as how to manage those who already crossed the border.
The presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras said Friday that they are working on a plan with President Obama to address the surge in unaccompanied minors who are making the dangerous trek to the U.S.
Tens of thousands of child migrants, many of whom are without a parent or guardian, crossed into the U.S. this year, quickly creating a humanitarian crisis. The issue has incited rancorous debate across the divided political spectrum about how to address the issue.
According to a press release from the White House, presidents Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala, Salvador Sanchez Ceren of El Salvador and Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras said they are addressing the issue by working together to "promote safe, legal and orderly migration."
The three agreed that an "effective solution requires a comprehensive and joint effort" from the U.S. and the Central American countries, from where the majority of undocumented immigrants are migrating.
According to the release, the presidents told Obama that they are working on a comprehensive plan to address the reasons why people are fleeing the countries to go to the United States.
The leaders agreed that they must work to reduce crime and encourage more socioeconomic progress, as the majority of immigrants are fleeing Central American countries due to economic stagnation and ubiquitous gang violence.
"We all recognize that we have to do more to address the root causes of the problem, and that includes poverty and violence in Central America," Obama said.
The leaders are working to discourage criminal activities such as smuggling networks, which put immigrants at a high risk "of violent crime and sexual abuse."
Obama said that he and the Central American leaders have "a shared responsibility, for example, when it comes to dealing with drug trafficking, that we are dealing with the demand for drugs in the United States and doing more to stop the cross-border flows of arms, for example, from the north to the south."
"And I also continue to emphasize the fact that not just if, but when we pass comprehensive immigration reform in this country, then we will have the capacity not only to strengthen resources at our borders, but we're also going to have the capacity to create more orderly ways for legal migration, in some cases temporary worker programs that allow people to advance economically; allow our economy to grow, allow families to be reunified; but also, in many cases, a lot of people to return to their families in their home countries," he added.
However, many also blame U.S. policies for drawing Central American immigrants to the United States. Paromita Shah, Associate Director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, told Latin Post that Central American countries have been on the "receiving end of harmful U.S. foreign policies."
She said that policies such as the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), "eviscerated Central American economies," as did other policies like the "U.S. government's interference with democratic policies of leftist governments in Honduras and El Salvador; and U.S. continued support for the "War on Drugs," which she said pushes "cartels from Colombia into Central America."
Obama said he will work with Central American leaders to stop the spread of misinformation about U.S. deportation policies, which some believe is increasing the surge in undocumented immigrants. He also said that they will work together to "humanely repatriate migrants."
He said that some child migrants have already been deported, and that most of the child migrants will not be allowed to stay in the country.
However, many immigrant rights groups, such as the National Immigration Project, do not agree with the swift repatriation of the children.
"I don't think the process outlined by President Obama comports with due process and ignores our international and domestic legal obligations to these children, the majority of whom are refugees fleeing dangerous and unlivable conditions in their home countries," Shah said. "Detaining and deporting refugees is a wholly inadequate response."
The Obama administration is also discussing a program that allows the U.S. to assess claims of asylum in certain countries in order to reduce the number of immigrants traveling illegally to the U.S. from those countries. However, Obama made it clear that that program is not the administration's first option in addressing the immigration crisis.
"There may be some narrow circumstances in which there is humanitarian or refugee status that a family might be eligible for," Obama said. "If that's the case it would be better for them to apply in country rather than take a very dangerous journey all the way up to Texas to make those same claims."
He said that applicants seeking asylum would have to meet the same criteria as other refugees to qualify.
"Under U.S. law, we admit a certain number of refugees from all over the world based on some fairly narrow criteria and typically refugee status is not just based on economic need or because a family lives in a bad neighborhood or in poverty it's typically defined fairly narrowly," he continued.
In recent weeks, Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion to address the immigration crisis. The appropriations would fund more border security and ways to speed up trials for undocumented immigrants, and therefore deportations.
House Republicans are expected to vote on a border bill next week, which would provide less than $1 billion to address the issue, and it would also amend a 2008 anti-trafficking law to speed up deportations, which Democrats and immigration rights groups are adamantly against.
"Proposals advances by Republicans and the President to expedite deportations and roll back critical protections in the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Act trample on the rights of these refugee children," Shah told Latin Post.
The proposed alteration of the law will likely prevent it from coming to a vote in the Senate.
Democrats are concerned that a faster trial process will cause many children to return to dangerous situations in their home countries.
However, Obama stands by his proposals, and is demanding swift action from Congress to begin implementing the reforms.
"We have a supplemental that provides resources for additional border security, for additional immigration judges, for additional resources to assist our Central American countries in providing facilities, and opportunities, and security needs to deal with the smugglers," Obama said. "And we need to get that done. And so there have been a lot of press conferences about this -- we need action and less talk."
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