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If Republicans Wanted to Fix Our Broken Immigration System, They Would Head to Central America

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Republicans head to the border to score political points, while the solutions to the regional migration challenges reside in the region south of the border

There is a crisis. It’s in Central America. The failure of governments in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to provide for their citizens has caused yet another increase in arrivals at our southern border. But America is never going to achieve durable solutions regarding Central American migration by only looking at the U.S.-Mexico border. The solutions lie in the region south of the border. 

So what is the point of the many Republican congressional delegations (CODELS) heading to the southern border? They don’t want policy solutions, they want a political issue. And to the extent they mention policies, they yearn for a return to Trump’s failures, chaos and cruelty. 

In contrast, the Biden administration is attempting to transform a border-centric, deportation-only and deterrence-focused approach to migration from Central America into a regional plan. The strategy calls for channeling the movement of refugees and migrants into legal channels with points of entry starting in the region, and working to address the forces and factors driving so many to abandon their countries. 

Recognizing this broader framework that the Biden administration is moving towards, many in the media are turning their attention to the regional nature of the challenge and the regional nature of the Biden-Harris plan.

  • New York Times, “We Are Doomed:” Devastation From Storms Fuels Migration in Honduras”:“ ‘We are doomed here,’ said Magdalena Flores, a mother of seven, standing on a mattress that peeked out from the dirt where her house used to be. ‘The desperation, the sadness, that’s what makes you migrate.’ People have long left Honduras for the United States, fleeing gang violence, economic misery and the indifference of a government run by a president accused of ties to drug traffickers. Then last fall, two hurricanes hit impoverished areas of Honduras in rapid succession, striking more than four million people across the nation — nearly half the population — and leveling entire neighborhoods. ‘People aren’t migrating; they’re fleeing,’ said César Ramos, of the Mennonite Social Action Commission, a group providing aid to people affected by the storms. ‘These people have lost everything, even their hope.’”
  • Washington Post, The reason many Guatemalans are coming to the border? A profound hunger crisis: “As more and more Central American families arrive at the United States’ southern border, the municipality of Panzós offers a stark illustration of the deepening food crisis that is contributing to the new wave of migration. So far this year, more unaccompanied minors processed by immigration agents are from Guatemala than any other country. Analysts and U.S. officials refer obliquely to ‘poverty’ as an underlying cause of that influx. But often the reason is far more specific: hunger … Guatemala now has the sixth-highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world. The number of acute cases in children, according to one new Guatemalan government study, doubled between 2019 and 2020.”
  • Bloomberg editorial, Border crisis needs more than money: “The impact of the pandemic and two hurricanes in 2020 compounded the region’s misery, displacing hundreds of thousands and causing Central America’s economies to shrink by 6%. All three countries rank among the most violent and corrupt places on earth. Surveys show that more than 1 in 5 citizens say they’ve had to pay bribes to receive government services. The Biden administration has called for providing $4 billion over four years to the three countries to address the ‘root causes’ of emigration. That’s roughly double the amount spent by Donald Trump’s administration, which in recent years cut off aid to punish the countries for failing to crack down on migration. The U.S. has an interest in holding the region’s leaders accountable for their citizens’ welfare, but amid public-health and environmental calamities, Trump’s policy toward Central America was cruel and shortsighted. Wisely, Biden wants to reverse it.”
  • A CBS Evening News Video Report:  CBS News Correspondent Manuel Bojorquez reports from Guatemala, where interviews with residents as young as 12 years old highlight the desperate circumstances in light of recent natural disasters that motivate migration to the United States. More than half a million Central Americans were temporarily or permanently displaced because of recent storms, and recovery has been slow to nonexistent in many remote farming communities. A young Guatemalan interviewed by Bojorquez made it all the way to Mexico City before he ran out of money to pay smugglers, and is now back in Guatemala and has “few options but to try again” to return to the United States. The U.S. has put out radio messages warning potential migrants not to come, but still many in remote farm communities bear the visible scars from the storms and the crops they rely on are “destroyed”. Many are “running out of options and considering leaving to the United States.” 
  • A new piece from Reuters: Sofia Menchu writes, “The White House is looking to create legal ways for Central American migrants to reach the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden’s special envoy Ricardo Zuñiga said on Tuesday, amid a sharp rise in illegal crossings over the past few months. Zuñiga, Biden’s envoy to the so-called Northern Triangle countries in Central America, said on a visit to Guatemala that the White House was looking to offer protections to migrants amid a push by Biden to reshape the U.S. border policy. A jump in immigration from the three Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador has posed one of the biggest political challenges to the new Biden administration…U.S. authorities caught more than 171,000 migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border in March, the highest monthly total in two decades and the latest sign of the mounting humanitarian challenge confronting Biden’s administration.” 
  • Senior Advisor and Chief Spokesperson for the Vice President Symone Sanders gave this statement: “The Vice President welcomes today’s announcement by USAID that it will activate a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to respond to the urgent humanitarian needs in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.  In coordination with officials on the ground, the team will provide the technical expertise needed to help scale up emergency food assistance, jobs programs, and protection for the most vulnerable families and communities.  The citizens of these countries are still suffering from the effects of two devastating hurricanes and the ongoing global pandemic.  The deployment of a DART team will provide needed humanitarian assistance, helping the people of the region where they are.” 

    According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

    The crisis is in Central America. If Republicans really wanted solutions, they would address the source of the crisis. Of course, they have no such interest. The GOP is a post-policy party, entirely focused on white identity, grievance politics and short-term tactics. Their only half-nods toward policy involve re-upping the failed deterrence-only policies and cruelties of Trump and Stephen Miller. In contrast, the Biden administration has it right on this by attempting to manage the arrival of kids seeking refuge while working to stabilize Central America. This, plus long overdue legislative policy reforms to put millions of settled immigrants on pathways to citizenship, are essential if we are to finally fix a broken immigration system that hasn’t been modernized in over 30 years.

    Read Frank Sharry’s Medium piece, The Challenges at our Southern Border Cry Out for Durable Solutions