Bipartisan Congressional Delegation Returns from Central America

WASHINGTON — Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, along with Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.), traveled Friday through Sunday to Guatemala and Honduras on a bipartisan, bicameral congressional delegation to see firsthand the factors that incentivize migration from Central America to the U.S.

Among the delegation’s many stops were border crossings and checkpoints in both countries and a vocational training facility and model police precinct station in Honduras.

The senators made these remarks upon their return:

“This weekend I was joined by Sens. Tom Carper, Heidi Heitkamp and Gary Peters and Congressman Reid Ribble on a fact-finding tour of Guatemala and Honduras,” Johnson said.

“Witnessing the conditions in these Central American countries reinforced what we have been learning in 12 border security hearings held by the Senate committee I chair: that the root cause of America’s insecure border is our insatiable demand for drugs.  This demand has created drug cartels and conditions that have corrupted public institutions throughout Central America, leaving these countries incapable of providing sufficient security and the rule of law that are basic prerequisites of economic success.

“I was heartened to confirm that a sense of national pride still exists in these countries. The Guatemalan president-elect expressed a love for country that he knows must be shared by his fellow citizens. Children in Honduras talked about their future in Honduras. And Guatemalans just repatriated from the U.S. erupted  in applause when welcomed back to their home country.  The president of Honduras told the delegation that witnessing his people leave their country for opportunities in the U.S. was a ‘slap in the face.’  Although the landscapes of Guatemala and Honduras are stunningly beautiful, we found that the most beautiful part of both countries is their people.

“I return committed to setting achievable goals based on reality, and then working with my colleagues to design solutions that have the best chance for success.  We must acknowledge that both push and pull factors lead Central Americans to migrate to the U.S., and both must be addressed.  It is also important to understand that those who are leaving to seek opportunity are the very people that these countries need to remain and fight to improve their countries.

“There is much work to be done, and it will take the collaborative efforts of many people in a number of countries to accomplish shared goals.  The fact that we observed teams from Colombia, joining exceptional Americans from a variety of agencies and multiple military branches working with dedicated citizens of the host countries, instilled real hope. 

“Central American societies have been ravaged by what too many Americans consider a ‘victimless’ crime — drug abuse.  We have seen the victims, and it is high time that we commit ourselves to finding real solutions.”

“This trip to Guatemala and Honduras gave us a chance to see, first-hand, the driving factors that compel so many children and parents to make a desperate decision and flee to the United States,” said Carper. “We were able to see the progress being made by the governments of Guatemala and Honduras to improve conditions in their countries and to learn more about a number of international initiatives aimed at alleviating the root causes of this migration, such as efforts to crack down on human and narcotics smugglers, violence reduction programs, job training for at-risk youth, and programs to encourage economic growth. It’s encouraging to see many of the ways these programs are working on the ground, and meet the men and women dedicating their lives to making these nations a better place to live, work and raise a family. While we’re seeing progress, we need to do more to strengthen our efforts in the region. The governments of the Northern Triangle have made an unprecedented commitment to tackle these challenges in a coordinated way through the Alliance for Prosperity, which is a multi-national strategy to improve the economic and societal conditions in the Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. We must work with our regional partners to support this effort, particularly given that the U.S. appetite for illegal drugs has contributed mightily to the difficulties these nations face. Change in these nations won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be easy, but we do have a moral and fiscal obligation to help our neighbors in these nations.  They can do it, we can help.”

“Our world is so connected today that what happens outside our borders can have a huge impact on us right here in the United States. That’s why I traveled to Central America with fellow members of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee – to learn about challenges there that affect our country and how we can work with those nations to develop solutions,” said Heitkamp. “Human trafficking, drugs, and gangs in Central America can all cause families to want to leave those nations, so it’s important that we understand those root causes to make sense of migration within the Americas. I was moved by our time with girls at a shelter for victims of human trafficking – their resilience reminded me why it’s critical that we fight this horrible crime in North Dakota and around the world.”

“Too many children are facing a sense of fear and hopelessness that is driving them to embark on the dangerous journey north to the United States, and it is critical that Congress have a clear understanding of the root causes of this migration,” said Peters. “I was pleased to join Senators Johnson, Carper and Heitkamp and Rep. Ribble to learn about the conditions on the ground in Guatemala and Honduras as well as the efforts by the U.S. and our partners in the region to crack down on smugglers who prey on desperate children and parents and help create a brighter future for the people of Central America.”

“The surge of adults and unaccompanied children trying to immigrate through our southern border is a crisis without an easy solution, and presents humanitarian issues on multiple layers as untold numbers of migrants become victims of human trafficking and suffer at the hands of brutal drug cartels in some of the hemisphere’s poorest and most volatile countries,” Ribble said.  “We want to stem this tide of migration both by having strong border control and enforcement mechanisms, and by acting as a partner to address the root causes of this problem before it starts.  As I visited border crossings, police checkpoints, shelters for sex trafficking victims, and spoke with officials in the region, I saw promising work being done, but it is clear that we still have a long way to go to truly address the immigration crisis at hand.”