The White House said the United States would launch a $40 million
program to improve security in Guatemala to reduce pressures fueling
migration to the United States and a $25 million program to provide
services to youth in El Salvador who are vulnerable to
Responding to what President Barack Obama has called a humanitarian
crisis, the U.S. Congress on Tuesday advanced legislation boosting
funds by as much as $2.28 billion to handle a surge of foreign
children entering the country illegally.
But underlying tensions continue to simmer.
Senator Robert Menendez and Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez
said U.S. lawmakers in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on
Wednesday held a "very testy meeting" with diplomats from El
Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.
"I proposed to the Vice President the possibility of considering
temporary work programs, which would allow (Guatemalans) to go for a
time and return," Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said on
Friday after meeting Biden, along with other Central American
leaders, in Guatemala City.
U.S. data show that between October and May more than 47,000
unaccompanied minors, mostly Central Americans, crossed into the
United States, nearly double the number in the prior year.
"As long as (U.S.) immigration reform is not approved, the exodus of
children to the United States will continue," Jorge Ramon Hernandez,
the senior representative of Honduran President Juan Orlando
Hernandez, said at the talks.
A partisan divide in the United States has stymied Obama's efforts
to reform immigration laws.
Insisting the immigrant children should be returned to their
parents, Biden also said "immigration reform has not died".
El Salvador's President Salvador Sanchez Ceren said this week he
would press Biden for a reform to help reunite existing family
members in the United States with more recent arrivals.
After Friday's talks, Sanchez said he intended to keep working for
the rights of the affected children.
"Each and every one of our countries has an obligation to guarantee
the rights of children and adolescents," he said.
On Thursday, Obama spoke to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto
over how to deal with the Central American children.
[to top of second column]
According to a U.S. official who asked not to be identified,
Washington has taken steps over the past few weeks to encourage
Guatemala and Mexico to better secure their common border.
In addition, the official said, U.S. and Central American
governments are reorienting their law enforcement efforts to target
the child smuggling operations that increasingly are "marketing"
their services to parents of unaccompanied minors.
"The (administration) message that is coming out now is 'Don't
come,'" the U.S. official said in an interview. "And if you think
you're coming and once you're here you won't be returned, that's not
the case. You're not going to be able to stay. And that's the
message that we're hoping will dissuade these young people," the
official added. It is a tough message, but one that many experts
think will fail to shut a spigot that Washington estimates will
bring at least 60,000 "unaccompanied minors" to the U.S. border this
year and grow to 120,000 next year, up from 6,000 in 2011.
"I understand why they're doing it, but I don't think it's a
solution," said Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense.
"People are desperate" to leave violence and poverty in their home
countries, she added.
Many unaccompanied children have sought to escape drug-fueled
conflicts in the region as well as rejoin family members who have
already made the journey.
(Additional reporting by Dave Graham in Mexico City, Gustavo
Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Nelson Renteria in San Salvador and Richard
Cowan, Mark Felsenthal, Doina Chiacu and Roberta Rampton in
Washington; Editing by Simon Gardner, Dan Grebler and Ken Wills)
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