Central American Leaders: Immigrant Children Are A Shared Problem
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The highest ranking officials from three Central American countries are making the rounds in Washington D.C. They are here to adjust the flood of unaccompanied migrant children coming across the Mexican border. Leaders from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala met today with members Congress and with the press. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.
JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The Central American leaders have come to Washington with a unified message - the dramatic rise of unaccompanied migrant children is a complicated and shared problem- one they say won't be fixed with just adding new fences and border guards. More than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been caught trying to cross the southern U.S. border since last fall. El Salvador's foreign minister Hugo Martinez - speaking at the Wilson Center - says among the causes of the migration problem are drugs and violence. Speaking through an interpreter, he says this is a transnational problem that can't be tackled in isolation.
HUGO MARTINEZ: (Through translator) And if we don't come together in a all out war against this organized crime, there is no other solution. Certainly the drug trafficking networks and the networks of trafficking in persons have their people who collaborate with them in all of our countries, including the United States. And so the only way for us to tackle this problem is for us to join forces, work together, share information.
NORTHAM: Martinez says many of the young kids are forced to flee their homes to escape the violence and exploitation of organized gangs. Guatemalan president, Otto Perez Molina - speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS, says youths often lack opportunity and education. Speaking through an interpreter, he called on the U.S. for help.
OTTO PEREZ MOLINA: (Through interpreter) Years back at the United States - was the major investor in our country. Now it is the seventh investor in Guatemala. And we need the investment. We need the opportunity to create employment.
NORTHAM: The Obama administration has asked Congress for $3.7 billion aid package to help stem the flow of unaccompanied minors. That would include a media blitz to better inform parents. President Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras, also at this CSIS, says Congress' inability to reach an agreement on immigration reform has created what he calls ambiguities.
PRESIDENT JUAN ORLANDO HERNANDEZ: (Through translator) The smugglers, who are very much a part of organized crime networks, reversely have thought to exploit those ambiguities and peddle a totally wrong interpretation to the parents of these children and saying, you can get your kids into the U.S. We can do it for you.
NORTHAM: The Central American leaders will make their case to President Obama when they meet at the White House on Friday. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.
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