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7/30/2014 8:28:00 AM
Central American leaders discuss limited options for migrants
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — While Central American children and families continue risking their lives to enter the U.S. illegally, political leaders have limited some of the options available to them once they leave their countries of origin.

The foreign ministers of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador described current alternatives available to migrants during a July 24 news conference at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

Luis Fernando Carrera Castro, the foreign minister of Guatemala, outlined a new initiative his country has created to help migrants stay in Mexico legally.

"We identified this from the beginning as a problem, so we have been working with Mexico in order to reach new solutions," Castro said. "Three weeks ago, we signed an agreement that allows all Guatemalans willing to stay at least three days in Mexico to stay within a specified territory without a visa. This territory, which is more or less 80 kilometers within Mexico, includes Chiapas, Tabasco and the whole territory of Quintana Roo and Campeche. But after this territory ends, controls get strict."

Castro explained that Guatemalans who leave this specified territory will face three different levels of checkpoints as they attempt to make their way to the U.S. In addition, Guatemala is undergoing a $350 million project to enhance security and control along its borders with Mexico.

In working to minimize illegal immigration, all three countries in what's called Central America's Northern Triangle have partnered to create an awareness campaign that showcases the risks involved in sending one's child from Central America into the U.S. illegally. Hoping to discourage additional migration, the countries are working together to implement incentives to encourage individuals to remain within their countries of origin.

As Central American leaders continue working with the U.S. to create improved conditions within their countries, Castro explained that the surge of migrants entering the U.S. without documentation has to end.

"Many people think that if you stop the flow of children, you are only trying to stop migration, but that is not the case for us," Castro said. "Illegal groups are currently handling the transportation of these children and endangering their lives in the process. We have to protect the children. If we stop the flow of children, it is a humanitarian measure to protect their lives."

President Barack Obama met with the presidents of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala July 25 at the White House to discuss the border crisis.

The four leaders said the needs of the migrant children remain their "first priority," according to a statement issued by the White House after the meeting.

The statement also said that "the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security are enhancing enforcement and removal activities" and that "migrant children and adults arriving with their children are not eligible to benefit from the passage of immigration reform legislation." Although comprehensive immigration reform would benefit immigrants who are currently living within the United States, there is no likelihood that Congress will pass any overall reform measure, and Obama has said he is considering issuing an executive order to install reforms to the current system.

Obama has urged Congress to approve $3.7 billion to deal with the crisis of unaccompanied youth. The House has proposed a $659 million package, and the Senate is considering providing $3.57 billion to help address the border crisis. In the meantime, about 30,000 minors who have crossed the border illegally have been transported to different states where they will be temporarily housed.

After the meeting with his Central American counterparts, Obama was asked by reporters about a potential refugee program that would allow migrants fleeing from violence in that region to remain within the U.S. legally, but he did not provide a definitive response.

"There may be some narrow circumstances in which there is a humanitarian or a refugee status that a family might be eligible for," the president said. "If that were the case, it would be better for them to be able to apply in-country rather than take a very dangerous journey all the way up to Texas to make those same claims. But I think it's important to recognize that that would not necessarily accommodate a large number of additional migrants."

Regardless of limited options for migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, immigrants like Gloria Florez remained hopeful.

"They will reach either a very good or a very bad agreement," Florez told Catholic News Service during a rally outside the White House July 25. "But I tell myself if they reach a bad agreement, we will keep fighting. We will fight until Obama opens his mind and his heart to understand that these children need his help."

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