Commentary: U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich reintroduced the Central America Reform And Enforcement Act, a major legislative proposal to address the root causes of the Central American migrant crisis. The bill outlines the coordinated regional response needed to effectively manage the endemic violence and humanitarian crises in the Northern Triangle countries -- El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras -- that are causing many women, children, and families to flee and seek asylum in the United States.
According to reports, U.S. Border Patrol has in recent weeks released over 4,000 migrants applying for asylum in the United States in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Yesterday, Udall, Heinrich and the New Mexico congressional delegation sent a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees requesting that state and local governments and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are providing much-needed humanitarian relief to asylum seekers in southern New Mexico are reimbursed.
In March, the Trump administration announced its intent to cut off direct aid to Northern Triangle countries in response to the recent influx of migrants from these nations seeking refuge in the United States – despite the fact that a broad range of security and foreign policy experts agree that that cutting aid will only increase the primary drivers of migration in the region.
“New Mexico has become ground zero for the consequences of this president’s failed approach to Central America, immigration, and border security policy. The Trump administration’s strategy boils down to taking funds from our military budget to waste on an ineffective border wall and demonizing families fleeing violence and seeking asylum, leaving New Mexico communities to deal with the fallout,” said Udall, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “This legislation recognizes that we have to address the root causes of migration from Central American countries -- not merely scramble to deal with the symptoms when they reach our border. Our bill tackles the underlying issues driving migration by engaging with Northern Triangle governments to help combat corruption, reduce violence, crack down on smuggling and trafficking, and restore the rule of law. As a border state senator, I’ll continue to fight for humane immigration policy, smart border security, and work to ensure that families don’t have to flee their homes in terror to make a life-threatening journey to our border.”
“The Administration has repeatedly failed to address the root causes of migration from Central America, including extreme poverty and violence,” said Heinrich. “The Central America Reform and Enforcement Act directly addresses the needs of these countries by reinstituting depleted foreign aid assistance, cracking down on gang violence, strengthening economic opportunity, and enhancing refugee processing systems that allow potential migrants to make claims in their home countries – before deciding to make such a dangerous journey. New Mexico’s border communities, like Las Cruces, are shouldering the burden of the Trump Administration’s failing policies. Congress must take action and support these common-sense efforts to address a humanitarian crisis that has been exacerbated by President Trump.”
The Central America Reform and Enforcement Act would:
- Condition assistance to Northern Triangle governments to address the root causes of the violence and instability that are driving migration. El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are among the most dangerous countries in the world, especially for women and children. Their populations face unrelenting and increasing violence, including murder and rape, perpetrated by armed criminal gangs and drug traffickers that act with impunity. The Democrats’ bill provides conditional assistance to these governments to restore the rule of law; create a more secure environment for children and families; strengthen democratic public institutions and reduce corruption; and promote economic opportunities. Assistance funding is conditioned on the State Department certifying that the governments are implementing reforms and making progress on critical priorities.
- Crack down on smugglers, cartels, and traffickers exploiting children and families. Smuggling and trafficking rings exploit the desperation of those seeking protection. The Senate Democrats’ bill creates new criminal penalties for human smuggling, schemes to defraud immigrants, and bulk cash smuggling. It also expands the work by the Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies to disrupt and prosecute smuggling and trafficking rings.
- Minimize border crossings by expanding refugee processing in the region. Ongoing, rampant violence in the region suggests that women and children will continue to flee to other countries in search of protection. The Senate Democrats’ bill helps Mexico and other Central American countries to strengthen their own asylum systems, expands refugee processing for third-country resettlement and creates a new refugee processing program to provide women and children an alternative to making the dangerous journey north.
- Enhance monitoring of unaccompanied children after they are processed at the border. The U.S. government lacks the resources to track unaccompanied children after they are processed by Border Patrol and are placed with a sponsor, usually a close family member. The Senate Democrats’ bill strengthens the Department of Health and Human Services’ ability to oversee the safety and wellbeing of children released to an adult sponsor while they await their court hearing by requiring consistent, uniform and timely background checks, post-placement wellness checks and post-release services. The bill also provides resources and guidance to local school districts enrolling unaccompanied children.
- Ensure fair, orderly and efficient processing of those who do reach our border seeking protection. The United States has a long tradition of standing up for refugees around the world and we have the capacity and responsibility to do so now with those fleeing increasing violence in our own hemisphere. The Senate Democrats’ bill provides a fair legal process for children and families seeking asylum, improves immigration court efficiencies by requiring a significant increase in the number of immigration judges to ensure the prompt resolution of immigration claims, and establishes reintegration programs in the region that reduce the likelihood of remigration for those who do not have legal grounds to stay in the United States.