Central America wants US as partner in fight against mass immigration

Presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in Washington to discuss action plan

Silvia Ayuso
A Predator drone patrols the US border in Arizona.
A Predator drone patrols the US border in Arizona.Matt York (AP)

Immigration should be an option, not an obligation caused by lack of opportunities back home in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, three countries from which huge numbers of unaccompanied minors have fled to the United States in recent months, triggering a crisis that is now contained but still unresolved.

That is the message the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are taking to Washington, D.C. on Friday on a joint trip to discuss immigration issues with US authorities.

The leaders of the Central American nations will detail their Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, a regional initiative to address the root causes of immigration in their part of the world.

The joint plan was sketched out at the request of the US government, and Central American leaders now want it to act as a “partner” to help implement it.

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“Even if the destination countries toughen up their laws and border surveillance, unless you put a gate in the countries of origin there will always be people moving towards the border, because the lack of opportunities back home makes them view immigration practically as an obligation,” said El Salvador’s foreign minister, Hugo Martínez.

The setting for the official presentation of the project and the guests who have been asked to attend provide clues about this new strategy. The plan – or its main guidelines, as details have yet to be hammered out – is scheduled to be put forward at the Inter-American Development Bank (BID), which has acted in an advisory role, in the presence of US Vice-President Joe Biden.

One of the keys to the success of the new initiative lies in international cooperation, said Guatemalan Foreign Minister Carlos Raúl Morales during a previous address at the Atlantic Council.

“What we come looking for in the US is a partner, someone who will trust us,” said Morales. “We are not a region that sends out terrorists, we are a region of very hardworking people who just want to get ahead.”

“Our governments have the political will [to carry out this project], what we need is support from our partners to face a problem that affects us all,” he said.

Central American countries turned in a preliminary draft of the Alliance plan to US authorities in September, during the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

“We heard that they like the document, that they are pleased by the approach,” said Martínez.

For the mid- to long-term plan to work, said the Salvadoran minister, it will be necessary to act simultaneously on four of the pillars set out in the document: entrepreneurship and economic development, security, investment in human capital and local capacity building.

The lack of opportunities back home makes people view immigration practically as an obligation” Salvadoran Foreign Minister Hugo Martínez

“If we don’t develop at least these four lines jointly, the equation will not be complete,” said Martínez, warning that results would, in any case, not be immediate.

“But what we do now will radically change the face, the demographics, the migration of the coming years,” he promised.

Meanwhile, Morales noted that the partners should not repeat mistakes of the past such as the Central America Security Strategy, to which the international community pledged $3 billion but ultimately only contributed $74 million.

That is why officials will not yet talk about specific amounts, and insist that the main thing now is to see what specific plans need to be developed in the short term.

“We’re not going to put a price on this because that will make people talk about its failure or success,” said Morales about the latest regional initiative. “We want to sit down to discuss how we are going to finance this and what we are going to build. We are going to determine our actions and their funding simultaneously. We will not plan any actions if we lack the funding for them.”

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