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Honduras and Guatemala seek U.S. help with gang violence to halt waves of child migrants arriving at U.S. border

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 25 Jul 2014 09:06 GMT
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Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, in Brownsville, Texas, on June 18, 2014. CPB provided media tours June 18 of two locations in Brownsville and Nogales, Arizona, that have been central to processing the more than 47,000 unaccompanied children who have entered the country illegally since Oct. 1. REUTERS/Eric Gay/Pool
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WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Higher fences will not halt the tens of thousands of children arriving alone at the U.S. border seeking refuge. Instead the United States should partner with Central America to combat organised crime and drug trafficking, said the leaders of Honduras and Guatemala.

It requires a comprehensive strategy to restore security and promote investment in the region if there are to be lasting effects in slowing migration, President Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras and Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala said ahead of a meeting at the White House on Friday to address the border crisis.

About 50,000 "unaccompanied minors" have shown up at the U.S. border with Mexico since October, hoping to escape gang violence, poverty and abuse, and join relatives in the United States. Most of them are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The children have overwhelmed U.S. border resources, arriving traumatised after being smuggled thousands of miles by train, truck and foot, often robbed and brutalised along the way. 

For U.S. President Barack Obama it has created a political problem.  He long has pushed for a new law to give a pathway to citizenship for the nearly 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, many from Central America and some of whose children now are trying to rejoin them. But immigration reform is blocked in a divided U.S. Congress. Many Republicans want more money spent strengthening the U.S. border patrols.

Hernandez partly blamed the crisis on this political deadlock. Human and drug traffickers are exploiting “ambiguity” over U.S. immigration policy to lure families into paying thousands of dollars to send their children north, he said on Thursday at a discussion hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Initiatives developed in partnership with the United States to fight violence and organised crime, such as Plan Colombia and the Merida Initiative in Mexico, have delivered results in combating drug trafficking. But their very success has driven violent gangs into neighbouring Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador - countries that are recovering from Cold War-era military dictatorships and civil war.

“We are faced with… a number of drug lords who have settled in Central America and have linked up with local gangs in an unholy alliance that has created unprecedented violence,” Hernandez said. “This has simply overwhelmed us.”

“EXPORTED” FROM VIOLENCE

Hernandez said a study of drug routes and U.S. immigration records shows that most of the children are fleeing from 30 municipalities in Honduras that are dominated by gangs. “In the rest of the country, we have faced the problem head on, but this does not blind us from the fact that the most dangerous drug violence occurs where those children are being exported,” he said.

A comprehensive approach is required, one that includes increased investment in building the economies of Central America as well as improving security, Molina said. One dollar spent strengthening the U.S. border would deliver higher returns if invested in Central America, he said. It would allow him to invest more in healthcare, education and job programmes, which will reap dividends five to 10 years from now by creating better economic opportunities at home, he said.

“If we don’t talk about underlying causes, the crisis will continue to occur,” Molina said.

Molina and Hernandez were meeting with congressional leaders in Washington ahead of their session scheduled for Friday with El Salvador’s President Sanchez Ceren at the White House.

(Editing by Alisa Tang: alisa.tang@thomsonreuters.com)

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