Today, the Vice President and other senior Administration officials participated in the Inter-American Development Bank Conference, “Investing in Central America: Unlocking Opportunities for Development.” The Vice President emphasized the Obama Administration’s ongoing commitment to working with Central American countries to address the underlying causes of the dangerous migration of families and unaccompanied children north to the United States. The Vice President’s speech follows important meetings held by President Obama this summer with the presidents of three Central American countries and the Vice President’s visit to Guatemala in June to meet with regional leaders.
The Obama Administration is taking an integrated and comprehensive approach to address the gaps in economic opportunity, institutional deficiencies, and security challenges that helped contribute to the migration that happened during the summer – developing a strategy that emphasizes and balances prosperity, governance, and security objectives.
A sustainable solution requires effective regional cooperation and partnership, with an active role for the private sector, development banks, and international donors. Trade and investment, which are essential to creating more jobs and opportunities for the young people joining the labor market every year, need the right conditions to flourish.
The United States will work closely with the governments of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, as well as with other international partners, as they implement the “Alliance for Prosperity” presented by the leaders of the three countries at the Inter-American Development Bank. Central American leaders have recognized that they have to take the lead in creating the economic, social, governance, rule of law and citizen security conditions to address factors contributing to increases in migration. We will support violence prevention programs and policies; efforts to professionalize the security forces; increased transparency and accountability in Central American government finances; and improvements to regional efforts to lower energy costs and make trade more efficient.
The Obama Administration has mounted a significant effort to respond in an efficient way to the influx of Central American migrants at the Rio Grande Valley over the summer. The President took decisive action by surging border enforcement and Department of Justice resources, ramping efforts to go after criminal smuggling networks and engaging in aggressive diplomacy to make sure that all countries in the region are working in concert to break the flow of migrants and to address the underlying causes of the migration. These efforts built upon the unprecedented investments in border security that the Administration has already made, and reaffirmed the Administration’s commitments to enforcing our borders and deterring illegal migration.
And today, there are encouraging signs that these actions are working and the situation is improving, as the numbers of unaccompanied children at the border continue to decline. The monthly numbers are now the lowest they’ve been in almost two years. Despite this progress, we must and will remain vigilant and continue to aggressively work to address underlying causes of migration and deter future increases.
As part of this effort to improve safe, legal and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey that some children are undertaking, the United States is establishing an in-country refugee/parole program in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The program will allow certain parents who are lawfully present in the United States to request access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for their children still in one of these three countries. Children who are found ineligible for refugee admission but still at risk of harm may be considered for parole on a case-by-case basis.
The refugee/parole program will not be a pathway for undocumented parents to bring their children to the United States. Instead, the program will provide certain vulnerable, at-risk children an opportunity to be reunited with parents lawfully resident in the United States. This program will begin accepting applications in December 2014. You can learn more about the in-country refugee/parole program HERE.
The President, Vice President and the Obama Administration look forward to continue to work with Central American countries to address the underlying factors contributing to increased migration and develop a regional solution that provides greater economic opportunities for Central America, with strong democratic institutions, more accountable, transparent, and effective public institutions, and where citizens feel safe and can build their lives in peace and stability.
Ricardo Zúñiga serves as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, for the National Security Council.