Migrants Flow in South Texas
MEXICO CITY — Faced with an unprecedented surge of child migrants from Central America that is overwhelming shelters and jails in Texas and Arizona, the United States has begun pushing for stronger regional cooperation to arrest the flow and enable the children’s safe return.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. arrives Friday in Guatemala to meet with the presidents of that country and of El Salvador, as well as senior officials from Honduras and Mexico, to help highlight warnings about the dangers of crossing Mexico and the United States border, as well as the futility of trying to obtain legal status without a proper visa. Mr. Biden also plans to announce ways to better address the crime rattling the nations that is contributing to the exodus.
Both issues have long made for complicated, and at times tense, relations between the United States, Mexico and Central America, and Mr. Biden’s visit puts the matter front and center. The countries largely blame the United States for failing to revamp laws to better regulate migration and for the drug trade that has stoked the violence on their streets.
Ahead of the meeting, President Obama called President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico on Thursday afternoon “to discuss the urgent humanitarian issue,” according to a White House statement, “and welcomed the opportunity to work in close cooperation with Mexico to develop concrete proposals to address the root causes of unlawful migration from Central America. He also discussed the United States and Mexico’s shared responsibility for promoting security in both countries and in the region.”
From October to June 15, 52,000 unaccompanied children were caught at the American border with Mexico border, twice the number for the same period in the previous year. Migration from Central America has been rising as young people seek to escape gang and other violence, but the sudden spike has been attributed in part to rumors that the United States would grant leniency to those who cross the border.
Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico, while expressing sympathy for the plight of the children, until now have treated the migration with far less urgency and have focused their diplomatic efforts on pushing for better conditions for the detained children, rather than on halting the flow in the first place.
The Honduran foreign minister, Mireya Agüero de Corrales, this week suggested minors from her country should be granted special status to stay in the United States with family members on humanitarian grounds, even as the Obama administration has tried to dispel any notion that would occur.
The president of Guatemala, too, renewed a call that had already been rejected for Guatemalans in the United States without proper visas to be granted “temporary protected status” allowing them to live and work.
Mexico, declaring that migration problems are a matter of “shared responsibility” with neighboring countries, has not unveiled any new initiative to halt the notoriously free flow of migrants across its southern border or to address the hundreds of people who openly stow away on a crime-ridden freight train known as “La Bestia,” or the Beast.
“There is a sense the problem is really terrible and shameful, but there is not much of sense they are going to do much new,” said Eric Olson, associate director of the Latin America program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, who is in Honduras researching the American approach to public security in the region.
While corruption and spotty, lackluster efforts at law enforcement and border control have not helped, the countries tend to view the violence that is propelling people north as a byproduct of American drug consumption, with multinational trafficking organizations using their countries as staging grounds and transit points for the illegal drugs that Americans demand.
In addition, Central American nations lament that economic development assistance has taken a back seat to immigration. They also denounce the emphasis on deportation, saying it results in the return of street gang members who then resume their acts of terror against law-abiding citizens in some of the poorest countries in the hemisphere.
It is not clear what new aid the United States might provide the countries to curb the violence or improve economic conditions. In general the approach has been trade agreements and limited economic programs that have not lifted vast numbers of people out of poverty. And the United States lately has been eschewing short-term, get-tough strategies that put soldiers on the streets, instead favoring crime prevention programs and training sessions for the police, prosecutors and judges in an effort to shore up weak institutions.
About $642 million has been designated for anti-crime aid to the region since 2008 under a program known as CARSI, for the Central American Regional Security Initiative, but congressional overseers have given the program mixed reports and said its successes are difficult to measure.
“Although Congress first appropriated funding for CARSI nearly six years ago, little information is available about the results of the initiative thus far,” said a report from the Congressional Research Service in May. “U.S. agencies reportedly monitor and report on CARSI through internal channels, but they have not publicly released the metrics used to assess the initiative’s performance.”
Héctor Silva Avalos, a former Salvadoran diplomat and now a scholar at American University who is studying the migration crisis, said CARSI had failed to stem violence or put a dent in the flow of drugs. That, he said, has caused El Salvador and Guatemala to consider or propose unorthodox approaches to reducing violence.
A gang truce that began two years ago in El Salvador with the government’s support initially helped reduce the number of murders, but the truce has since crumbled and violence is rising again there.
In Guatemala, President Otto Pérez Molina has suggested legalizing narcotics as an alternative, but he has not taken steps toward such a move, and some analysts believe he is raising the prospect to pressure American officials to fully restore military aid suspended decades ago during the country’s civil war.
“Because of frustration with the circumstances, Central America has felt more empowered to talk back,” Mr. Avalos said. “It is good for politics there, but not really for policy.”
Honduras, the most violent of the nations and the source of a great number of the migrants, has proposed a militarized approach to fighting crime, but the United States, while still working closely with certain police units, has balked at some of the steps taken by the country’s new president.
The United States stopped its assistance in tracking drug planes with radar after Honduras adopted a law allowing its forces to shoot down suspect civilian aircraft, a tactic that violates the terms of American foreign assistance. The United States has also threatened to withdraw help to repair Honduras’s fighter jets.
The United States temporarily halted drug aid for four months in 2012 after the Honduran military shot down two civilian planes.
President Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras has rebuked the United States for its position. In a sign of the tensions the matter has provoked, he is attending the World Cup in Brazil and plans to skip the meeting of the other nations and Mr. Biden in Guatemala.
“Either you are helping us or you are not going to continue to do so, but it is good to know,” Mr. Hernández said at a police ceremony in March, with the American ambassador seated before him. He went on to thank countries for helping the effort to curtail the violence, but said “clearly some should be helping more than others.”
Mr. Olson, the Latin America expert, said, “Right now in Honduras in a lot of ways the U.S. and Honduras are not on the same page when it comes to public security.”
The United States has continued to assist in intercepting boats in Honduras, which officials say carry 80 to 90 percent of the drugs into the country. And Honduras has found other ways to support its military approach: it has bought radar from Israel and Mr. Hernandez has sought agreements with Brazil to repair its air force jets.
“They may see us a small, they may see us as poor but we are people with dignity who are going to press forward no matter the cost,” Mr. Hernández said at the police ceremony.
Edited by vladzo, 09 July 2014 - 09:55 PM.