[House Hearing, 113 Congress]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]
CHILDREN MIGRATING FROM CENTRAL AMERICA:
SOLVING A HUMANITARIAN CRISIS
THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED THIRTEENTH CONGRESS
JUNE 25, 2014
Serial No. 113-182
Printed for the use of the Committee on Foreign Affairs
Available via the World Wide Web: http://www.foreignaffairs.house.gov/
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COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
EDWARD R. ROYCE, California, Chairman
CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, New Jersey ELIOT L. ENGEL, New York
ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, Florida ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA, American
DANA ROHRABACHER, California Samoa
STEVE CHABOT, Ohio BRAD SHERMAN, California
JOE WILSON, South Carolina GREGORY W. MEEKS, New York
MICHAEL T. McCAUL, Texas ALBIO SIRES, New Jersey
TED POE, Texas GERALD E. CONNOLLY, Virginia
MATT SALMON, Arizona THEODORE E. DEUTCH, Florida
TOM MARINO, Pennsylvania BRIAN HIGGINS, New York
JEFF DUNCAN, South Carolina KAREN BASS, California
ADAM KINZINGER, Illinois WILLIAM KEATING, Massachusetts
MO BROOKS, Alabama DAVID CICILLINE, Rhode Island
TOM COTTON, Arkansas ALAN GRAYSON, Florida
PAUL COOK, California JUAN VARGAS, California
GEORGE HOLDING, North Carolina BRADLEY S. SCHNEIDER, Illinois
RANDY K. WEBER SR., Texas JOSEPH P. KENNEDY III,
SCOTT PERRY, Pennsylvania Massachusetts
STEVE STOCKMAN, Texas AMI BERA, California
RON DeSANTIS, Florida ALAN S. LOWENTHAL, California
TREY RADEL, Florida--resigned 1/27/ GRACE MENG, New York
14 deg. LOIS FRANKEL, Florida
DOUG COLLINS, Georgia TULSI GABBARD, Hawaii
MARK MEADOWS, North Carolina JOAQUIN CASTRO, Texas
TED S. YOHO, Florida
LUKE MESSER, Indiana--resigned 5/
20/14 noon deg.
SEAN DUFFY, Wisconsin>--
added 5/29/14 noon
Amy Porter, Chief of Staff Thomas Sheehy, Staff Director
Jason Steinbaum, Democratic Staff Director
Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere
MATT SALMON, Arizona, Chairman
CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, New Jersey ALBIO SIRES, New Jersey
ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, Florida GREGORY W. MEEKS, New York
MICHAEL T. McCAUL, Texas ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA, American
JEFF DUNCAN, South Carolina Samoa
RON DeSANTIS, Florida> THEODORE E. DEUTCH, Florida
TREY RADEL, Florida--resigned ALAN GRAYSON, Florida
SEAN DUFFY, Wisconsin --5/
C O N T E N T S
Mr. Francisco Palmieri, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central
America and the Caribbean, Bureau of Western Hemisphere
Affairs, U.S. Department of State.............................. 9
Mr. Mark Lopes, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Latin
America and the Caribbean, U.S. Agency for International
LETTERS, STATEMENTS, ETC., SUBMITTED FOR THE HEARING
Mr. Francisco Palmieri: Prepared statement....................... 11
Mr. Mark Lopes: Prepared statement............................... 19
Hearing notice................................................... 40
Hearing minutes.................................................. 41
CHILDREN MIGRATING FROM CENTRAL AMERICA: SOLVING A HUMANITARIAN CRISIS
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 25, 2014
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere,
Committee on Foreign Affairs,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 2 o'clock
p.m., in room 2255 Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Matt
Salmon (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Mr. Salmon. Quorum being present, the subcommittee will
come to order and I will start by recognizing myself and
Ranking Member Albio Sires to present our opening statements.
Without objection the members of the subcommittee can
submit their opening remarks for the record and now I yield
myself as much time as I might consume.
Good afternoon and thank you all for joining us today in
convening this hearing on the humanitarian crisis that has been
unfolding as a result of thousands of unoccupied children
showing up at our border.
President Obama's political spin team and the White House
are calling this a humanitarian situation. I visited a location
where these children are being held in Nogales, Arizona. I saw
children as young as four essentially warehoused and I can tell
you it is not a situation. It is a crisis.
Not only have relevant agencies been overwhelmed, but our
national security has been put at risk as the border security
resources have been diverted to deal with the crisis. Virtually
all of the 140 volunteers from the Customs and Border Patrol
that are at this facility are volunteers who have basically
left the border to take care of these children. In the last 8
months, over 47,000 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended
at our border.
In the first part of this fiscal year, Border Patrol has
seen a 700 percent increase in children coming from El Salvador
alone and illegally, 930 percent increase in children coming
from Guatemala, and a 1,200 percent in children coming
illegally from Honduras, compared to all of 2009.
When I toured the warehouses in Nogales, I couldn't help
but ask how many children didn't make it, how many became ill,
were sold into prostitution, or were murdered and never made it
to the border.
Since the magnitude of this crisis began hitting the
airwaves, we have heard the administration scramble to describe
all the push and the pull factors all of which are indeed
What is missing from the administration is a clear
statement repudiating the President's own declaration in the
Rose Garden back in 2012 the he would no longer enforce
elements of our immigration laws, which has been the primary
impetus for the massive increase in unaccompanied minors
arriving illegally on our doorstep.
President Obama's decision to flout U.S. immigration law
spread like wildfire through the region and very clearly
prompted mothers and fathers in Central America to do the
unthinkable--send their children on a dangerous voyage at the
mercy of human traffic smugglers and criminals.
These children were lured by rumors that they would receive
permisos at the border allowing them to stay, rumors
originating with the President's own deferred action directive.
The fact is President Obama's unwillingness to enforce
immigration law and secure our borders not only impacts the
security of U.S. citizens, but has had the immoral effect of
incentivizing young vulnerable children to risk their lives and
suffer untold indignities rather than stay with their families
where they belong.
Encouraging children to make a dangerous trek and then
warehousing them away from their families is definitely not
compassionate. The right and moral thing to do is reunite these
children with their families in their home countries while
helping those countries create conditions for security and
opportunity, and I think we have a responsibility to work with
those countries to get that done.
But the first step has to be taken by this administration.
It is for President Obama to make a public appearance, to walk
back his continued flouting of U.S. immigration and border
security policy and tell the world that the United States will
protect its borders while discouraging families from risking
their lives and the lives of their children unnecessarily.
Press releases and letters to regional heads of state are
not going to be sufficient. Public diplomacy efforts have got
to be robust. The President must own his substantial role in
creating this crisis.
It is the morally correct thing to do and I really hope he
will. Second, we have got to take immediate steps to send those
children to their country of origin to be reunited with their
Failure to act quickly and return these kids is going to
cause even more children to risk the perilous trip north. Right
now they are paying about $5,000 to $8,000 apiece.
Think of how much that represents of a person's income that
lives in Honduras or El Salvador. It probably represents an
entire year for them. And if they are seeing, by our actions,
that those efforts are going to be fruitless and that is going
to be a waste of money, it is going to stop.
Following these immediate steps we have to look at the
conditions in our hemisphere that create this kind of abject
desperation that would drive a parent to send their small
children far away from home in search of a better life.
We spend time on this subcommittee looking at the
insecurity that plagues Central America, the criminality fused
by transnational criminal organizations and gangs and the lack
of economic opportunity that is made worse by these realities.
I convened this hearing today because I want to work with
State and USAID to find better and more effective ways to help
the countries of Central America to combat this scourge of
criminality and empower economic growth and opportunity.
The dangerous level of criminality is absolutely a
contributing factor to the shocking uptick in unaccompanied
minors making this dangerous trip to escape the growing
violence in the Northern Triangle. Honduras has the highest
murder rate in the world with El Salvador and Guatemala ranked
fourth and fifth.
Reports from Honduras and El Salvador reveal that children
are increasingly forced to participate in gang and criminal
activities. We need to take a hard look at specific CARSI
programs to evaluate if they have been truly effective at
combating the scourge of narcotics trafficking and criminal
Mexico is affected by the growing violence in Central
America just as we are. We have got to find ways to get Mexico
to take a bigger role in helping Central American nations in
partnership with the United States, and to that end I would
like to see an itemized accounting of the types of USAID
programs being employed in the region and an honest assessment
of whether or not they are working. This is a crisis.
In addition, I would like to convey my frustration that
over the last 18 months, we have conducted several hearings on
the region and specifically the challenges and opportunities
facing the Western Hemisphere.
Yet not one of the individuals testifying before this
committee mentioned the developing situation of dramatically
increasing numbers of minors fleeing the Northern Triangle and
crossing our border.
While the media is now highlighting this crisis, the fact
is the administration knew about this months ago and, frankly,
failed to put in place adequate resources to address the flow
or develop a comprehensive response to the growing crisis.
Finally, earlier this year when Secretary Kerry was
testifying before the full committee, I lamented the lack of
action the Western Hemisphere was receiving from the
I went on to ask him if he believed, with all the crises
around the globe, if spending scarce resources on solar panels
and abortion pills in Guatemala were the best use of taxpayer
To my utter surprise, the Secretary responded that climate
change was the most significant crisis facing our country and
With all due respect, this situation of unaccompanied
minors fleeing their homeland is an immediate crisis that
demands an immediate response that focuses on development and
jobs over pet environmental projects.
And to that end, when the money became available in the
region from the closure of Ecuador and Bolivia missions those
funds should have been retargeted toward addressing this UAC
crisis, not spent on environmental intervention in Colombia, a
Now is the time for USAID and State to make judicious use
of taxpayers' hard earned money to help empower the people of
these affected countries economically, to help them find ways
to diversify their crops, to attract foreign investment, to
encourage entrepreneurialism and economic freedom over a life
of criminality and violence.
I am honored that the speaker appointed me to the
congressional task force he constituted to look for solutions
for this humanitarian crisis. I look forward to working with my
colleagues and the administration to craft a swift, fair,
appropriate and compassionate response to the crisis so we can
get these children home with their families on a path to a more
prosperous and secure region.
I am grateful to both Mr. Palmieri and Mr. Lopes for coming
before this subcommittee today and I look forward to a
constructive discussion on what we can do to mitigate the
humanitarian crisis unfolding at our doorstep.
And I will now recognize the ranking member for his opening
Mr. Sires. I am going to cede to the ranking member of the
full committee, Congressman Engel.
Mr. Engel. Thank you. Thank you very much. I appreciate it,
as I have to leave for another meeting. But I want to thank
you, Mr. Chairman--Chairman Salmon--and Ranking Member Sires,
for holding today's hearing on this important topic.
As the former chairman of the Western Hemisphere
Subcommittee, I always feel at home coming back here to this
subcommittee. This is a subcommittee where I have done some of
my best work on the Foreign Affairs Committee as chairman and
as ranking member as well, and as ranking member of the entire
Foreign Affairs Committee, we always talk about the
collaborative effort and the bipartisan effort that we always
have on this committee.
I think it makes our committee stand up far behind any
other committee in Congress in showing what Congress can do in
working together, how much we can accomplish and I think of no
better way than when it comes to foreign affairs that foreign
policy, foreign relations should be done on a bipartisan basis
because America is stronger when we have bipartisan support,
and we obviously have very talented people on both sides of the
aisle, and so it is a pleasure to see this being done again in
a bipartisan fashion.
As a father, my heart goes out to all of the unaccompanied
children making the dangerous trek from Central America to the
United States. I know that some have responded to the large
influx of children arriving in our country by calling for
harsher enforcement of our immigration laws.
While we must continue to enforce our immigration statutes,
cracking down on children is clearly not the answer. Last week,
I sent a letter to the President which was signed by 61 of our
House colleagues urging the administration to increase
resources for programs that get at the root cause of
unaccompanied children migrating here from Central America.
My letter calls for significant investments in State
Department and USAID initiatives in El Salvador, Guatemala and
Honduras that focus on youth gang prevention and economic
development. It also urges funding for efforts designed to
integrate returning children into their home countries.
This does not mean simply reprogramming existing funding,
but instead means increasing the President's Fiscal Year 2015
request for Central America.
The administration justifiably increased the Department of
Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement Fiscal
Year 2015 request for its unaccompanied alien children program
from $868 million to $2.28 billion.
Something similar can and should be done to provide funding
that gets at the root causes of this migration pattern. I am
pleased that Vice President Biden announced some added funding
in Guatemala last Friday, and I was also pleased that the
Senate Appropriations Committee increased funding for these
Mr. Chairman, thank you again for holding today's hearing.
As I have said at another forum previously, you have been a
friend and partner of mine for many, many years and doing
outstanding work as usual and as chairman of this subcommittee.
Mr. Sires, we have also worked together on so many
different things, and it is really great seeing the two of you
So I look forward to working with you and other members of
this committee to increase foreign assistance to Central
America to address the root causes of the current wave of child
migration. Thank you.
Mr. Salmon. Thank you. Mr. Duncan.
Mr. Duncan. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thanks for the
timeliness of this hearing. Some of the things I want to hear
today, if you will take a look at that map right up there and
you can't make out Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, but I know
where they are.
I can see Mexico very, very clearly. That is a long way for
these children to transit. It is hard for me to realize and
comprehend that moms and dads would actually send children, and
if you look at some of the pictures these kids are 3, 4, and 5
The moms and dads actually send them off that far on that
kind of a journey unaccompanied. So I would like to find out if
brothers and sisters are traveling with them, older teenage
brother and sisters, parents, possibly transiting all the way
through Mexico to get to the RGV.
I also want to hear today about this so-called aggressive
public outreach campaign to counter false messages and
accurately portray the dangers of the journey. Okay to
accurately portray the danger of the journey, but I want to
know what sort of counter false messages--I want to know what
Are you saying don't come to America?--you will not get
amnesty, you will not get citizenship--in fact, you will be
deported back to your home country if you come--moms and dads,
don't send those children to this country because they are
going to be returned to you.
Chain migration is something that we should not allow. I
want to hear what sort of message you are relaying into those
countries because it has created a crisis situation on our
border. We need a tourniquet down there. We need to stop the
hemorrhaging of illegals flowing into this country. Not just
the children. That is the topic of today--I realize that.
But we have a crisis situation on our border with folks
entering our country that will eventually put a strain on our
social services and our budget. We are $18 trillion in debt.
The President called for $1.8 billion humanitarian effort.
Well, where does that money come from? It comes from taxpayers
in South Carolina and Arizona to go to pay for unexpected folks
that are coming into this country for a humanitarian effort,
and so I want to talk a little bit about that today.
I appreciate what the State Department and what DHS is
trying to do, and I appreciate this hearing, Mr. Chairman. I
Mr. Salmon. Thanks. Mr. Sires.
Mr. Sires. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this
hearing. I want to thank our witnesses for being here today.
Over the past months we have been witness to an unprecedented
number of child migrants coming to the U.S. from Central
America, in particular the Northern Triangle countries of El
Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
It is clear that the groundswell of unaccompanied child
migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border have resulted in a
humanitarian crisis. This crisis will not be resolved overnight
or with quick short fixes.
It will require dedicated shared responsibilities and
regional response. For its part, the Congress must ensure that
the U.S. authorities manage the processing of detained child
migrants as humanely and transparently as possible while
respecting their basic human rights and legal protection.
In turn, Northern Triangle governments must acknowledge
common factors driving unaccompanied child migrants,
specifically, the lack of economic opportunities and high
levels of criminal violence in their home countries.
More importantly, it is incumbent upon the regions'
governments to inform potential migrants and their families of
the life-threatening dangers involved in the migratory journey
and dispel any misgiving regarding current U.S. immigration
policies, a status quo that remains unchanged.
Pronouncements that deny or implicitly ignore these factors
exacerbate the unfolding crisis, do a disservice to the
families that endure these stark realities every day and
debilitate efforts in the Congress to provide further
assistance that address the root causes of Central American
child migration, let alone comprehensive immigration reform.
The Northern Triangle region in Central America is amongst
the most violent in the world. According to the United Nations,
Honduras is ranked first, El Salvador is ranked fourth,
Guatemala is ranked fifth in terms of the highest murder rates
in the country.
Since 2005, murders of men and boys increased 292 percent
while the murders of women and girls increased 346 percent. In
Honduras and El Salvador, in particular, child advocates
reported increasing accounts of children being forcibly
recruited to participate in gang activities.
Consequently, the number of Central American migrants
comprising of a rising number of children from the Northern
Triangle region have steadily increased.
In 2013, for the first time more than a third of the
migrants whom the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended near the U.S.-
Mexican border were other than Mexican--migrants comprised
mainly of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Mexican child
migrants accounted for 82 percent of the nearly 20,000
unaccompanied child apprehension in 2014 compared to 17 percent
from the other three Northern Triangle countries.
Astonishingly, these proportions reversed within the first
8 months of 2014, with Mexican child migrants comprising only
25 percent of the roughly 47,000 unaccompanied child migrants
apprehensions and child migrants from the northern region of
the countries comprising an overwhelming 73 percent.
From Mexico, a country whose unaccompanied child migration
numbers have declined but still serve as a primary thoroughfare
for migrants from Central America, reports indicate that the
migrants are increasingly citing widespread incident of
extortion, kidnapping and other abuses committed by both
criminal groups and Mexican federal, state and local police
Mexico must work together with the Central American
neighbors to address security concerns along the southern
border, in addition to initiatives that strengthen
institutions, sustaining the rule of law, and protect human
This crisis has emerged within the backdrop of increasing
foreign policy challenges, limited resources and a stalled
effort to enact comprehensive immigration reform.
This crisis has not emerged halfway across the globe. It
has unfolded at our own doorsteps, and underscores the need to
pay appropriate attention to our own hemisphere.
Now more than ever, the U.S. should support the region in a
concerted regional strategic strategy to increase economic
opportunity, strengthen the rule of law, improve the integrity
and effectiveness of police and security forces, and undermine
the conditions that give way to gang and family-related
These measures are futile, however, if not accompanied with
a concerted effort to reintegrate these children back into
their respective communities. Moreover, U.S. regional security
aid programs like the Central American Regional Security
Initiative must be dynamic enough to address ongoing citizen
security concerns with the complementary programs designed to
address underlying economic, social conditions that have
communities vulnerable to criminal threats and ultimately
result in immigration.
Vice President Biden visited the region's leaders and the
administrations' announced plan to address the ongoing crisis
are positive first steps.
However, with the Fiscal Year 2014 budget that has been
reduced 20 percent to $130 million the U.S. must do more. This
includes addressing the issues of millions of undocumented
immigrants and their families.
I call upon the region's government to work with the United
States and do their part to find solutions to this government--
to this growing humanitarian crisis, provide a safe environment
for the children and address the underpinning of what is
compelling these young children to abandon their homeland to
risk their lives to come to the U.S.
I look forward to hearing from our panelists and their
assessment of how we can address this unfortunate crisis.
Mr. Salmon. Thank you. I understand Mr. Duffy does not have
an opening statement. Is that correct? Mr. Castro, you are
Mr. Castro. First of all, thank you, Chairman and Ranking
Member, for allowing me to join you today. Although I serve on
the Foreign Affairs Committee, I am not on this subcommittee,
so thank you.
The tragedy that is going on at our border is a direct
result of the U.S. House of Representative's failure to pass
comprehensive immigration reform. The fact is if we had passed
either the Senate or the House bill, there were resources for
both border security, international cooperation and it would
have outlined a path for clear legal migration this country.
And yet as this has unfolded, everybody has been pointing
fingers at each other--at the President, at the different
parties--and the fact is that this body has failed the American
people. We need to make sure, and the best thing that we can do
is solve this situation, which is a humanitarian crisis.
I had a chance to visit Lackland Air Force Base, which is
one of the emergency shelters that is housing the kids in San
Antonio. I was told the story of a 6-year-old boy who traveled
from I think it was Honduras with his 2-year-old sister, and
during the journey they were separated and this kid was torn up
because he thought his sister had died.
And they reunited them when they were both in custody and
they were still held, and you all are right that there are
rumors that the coyotes and the cartels are pitching to very
desperate people. But the reason that those rumors are
successful is because this Congress has failed to take real
action on immigration reform.
So the very best thing that we can do to dispel those
rumors and to create real change and fix this is to pass
comprehensive reform, and I hope that we can do that this year.
Thank you, Chair.
Mr. Salmon. Pursuant to Committee Rule 7, the members of
the subcommittee will be permitted to submit written statements
to be included in the official hearing record. Without
objection, the hearing record will remain open for 7 days to
allow statements, questions and extraneous materials for the
record subject to the length limitation in the rules.
And now I am going to introduce the panel. First, we have
Mr. Palmieri. He is the Deputy Secretary for Central America
and Caribbean for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs and
at the Department of State.
Prior to his current assignment, he served in the Dominican
Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and as the senior desk officer
for Venezuela. He has also led INL's Latin America and
Caribbean Programs Office. Mr. Palmieri holds an M.S. in
international strategic studies from the National War College
and a B.A. in politics from Princeton University.
Mr. Lopes is the deputy assistant administrator for the
Bureau of Latin America and Caribbean at USAID. Prior to
joining USAID, he worked for the House Appropriations State
Foreign Operations Subcommittee. He holds a B.M. from Berkeley
College of Music and an M.P.P. from Harvard University's
Kennedy School of Government.
You all understand the lighting system. When it goes amber
you got a minute, and when it goes red it is time to stop. And
so let us go ahead and begin.
Mr. Palmieri, we recognize you first.
STATEMENT OF MR. FRANCISCO PALMIERI, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY
FOR CENTRAL AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN, BUREAU OF WESTERN
HEMISPHERE AFFAIRS, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Mr. Palmieri. Chairman Salmon, Ranking Member Sires,
members of the subcommittee, I am very pleased to speak with
you about the Department of State's role in addressing the
migration of unaccompanied children to the United States,
particularly from Central America.
I appreciate your attention to this important issue, and
look forward to working with you. The administration is deeply
concerned by the substantial increase over the past year in the
number of children who are leaving their countries and
attempting to migrate illegally to the United States.
We know that they are primarily arriving from El Salvador,
Guatemala and Honduras. The number of children from those
countries arriving at the southwest border has overwhelmed
The U.S. Government is working nonstop to arrange humane
care for these children, consistent with U.S. legal
requirements once they have arrived in the United States.
The Department of State in coordination with other
agencies, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the
lead, is working on a rapid government-wide response in the
short-term while realigning our long-term efforts to address
the systemic challenges in the region that drive migration.
Most importantly, at the senior levels of this
administration, including the President, Vice President,
Secretaries of State, Homeland Security and our Ambassadors in
the region, we are engaging every day with our foreign
government counterparts to help stem the flow of children
leaving their countries.
We are doing this not just because it is part of enforcing
our laws, but because it is the right thing to do to help these
vulnerable children. Our first concern must be these children's
Not only are these children exposed to life-threatening
risks on the journey to the United States, but they are being
misled about potential immigration benefits available in the
For that reason, we are taking concrete steps to stop the
spread of misinformation through criminal networks, which
encourage these hazardous journeys.
To counter these messages, we and the Department of
Homeland Security with Central American governments and Mexico,
are developing new targeted public service announcements that
will better reach the population centers that are the source of
many of these vulnerable child migrants.
Our Embassies in all of these countries and in Mexico have
launched aggressive public outreach campaigns to counter false
messages and to accurately portray the dangers of the journey.
Our Ambassadors constantly engage with the media in these
countries on this issue. Again, we are working hard to dispel
the misguided notion that these children will not face
Our Mexican and Central American partners are cooperating
fully in this messaging and deploying complementary information
campaigns in their respective countries.
It is our goal that these information campaigns will better
inform people in the region in order to prevent more children
from making this incredibly dangerous journey.
The Vice President also announced last week in Guatemala
that the administration will spend an additional $10 million in
support of increased repatriation capacity and specialized
training on procedures for receiving returned citizens.
In addition, the department continues to focus on a longer-
term approach to address the systemic issue Central American
countries face and are creating the push factors behind this
phenomenon--lack of economic, educational and employment
opportunities, weak institutions and high levels of violence
We are seeking to better balance our regional approach to
prioritize and integrate prosperity, security and governance.
We aim to address the need for job creation, attack insecurity
and promote greater government accountability, all issues that
are driving migrants, including these vulnerable children, to
the United States.
Mexico also plays an important role in addressing this
humanitarian situation, and we are working closely with the
Government of Mexico on short and long-term solutions, given
our shared responsibility for promoting security in both
countries and in the region.
We are working to enhance our cooperation with Mexico to
disrupt the organized criminal networks facilitating smuggling
and strengthen their enforcement at Mexico's southern border
with Guatemala. In addition, we are working with Mexico to
increase enforcement along the dangerous La Bestia train route,
which many of these most vulnerable migrants travel through
From a foreign affairs perspective, we are using our
existing resources to both manage the near-term surge in
unaccompanied children, and to implement programs to address
the long-term challenges that constitute the complex and
systemic factors driving migration.
It is clear, however, that substantial transformative
change in Central America requires greater efforts by all the
actors involved, and we must work with Congress on this issue.
It is equally clear that a whole government approach and
greater collaboration with international partners is required
to control the extremely high cost of the domestic,
humanitarian and law enforcement response.
Thank you, and I look forward to answering your questions.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Palmieri follows:]
STATEMENT OF MR. MARK LOPES, DEPUTY ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR,
BUREAU FOR LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN, U.S. AGENCY FOR
Mr. Lopes. Thank you, Chairman Salmon, Ranking Member Sires
and members of the subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity
to discuss what the U.S. Agency for International Development
is doing and can do to help curb the migration of unaccompanied
children from Central America.
For several years, USAID programs in Guatemala, Honduras
and El Salvador have worked to prevent violence and criminality
and prevent youth from entering into gangs. USAID currently
supports over 120 outreach centers across the region.
These centers are part of the portfolio of programs that
make up USAID's contribution to the Central American Regional
Security Initiative, which is a subset of programs that make up
the overall $150 million USAID will invest in Guatemala,
Honduras and El Salvador this year.
This broader investment includes programs in education,
health, agriculture as well as the environment, and we see this
integral approach to programming as the right way to carry out
USAID's mission, which is to end extreme poverty and to promote
resilient democratic societies while advancing our security and
As Vice President Biden announced last Friday, USAID is
launching a new 5-year $40 million program in Guatemala to
improve citizen security to target particular communities and
reduce the risk factors for young people to enter into
In El Salvador, USAID recently announced a 5-year $25
million program that will open 77 new youth outreach centers,
in addition to the 30 already in place there.
These centers, like those mentioned above, offer at-risk
youth the chance to get help with their homework, get
mentoring, computer training, or better yet, training on how to
fix a computer so they can later get a job doing so.
USAID programs announced by Vice President Biden are part
of a scaling up of prevention programs which reflect a
recognition by our Government as well as by governments in the
region that more financial and intellectual resources are
required, to have a lasting impact on the root causes of
violence and criminality.
In the last 5 years, this recognition is visible. Many
governments in the region now have prevention-oriented
strategies in place. This was not always the case.
USAID programs are designed to support those strategies and
provide examples of that work so that the region's governments
can expand and scale up in order to have a nationwide impact.
Recently, President Hernandez of Honduras publically
committed to allocating 30 percent of the funds collected
through their security tax to support programs in violence
Six hundred thousand dollars of the $1 million pledge from
these Honduran resources has already been provided to expand
the network of youth outreach centers across Honduras. This
specific prevention-related programming by USAID is supported
and integrated with our broader portfolio of work.
For example, in Guatemala, USAID will invest $25 million in
a new program to improve access and quality of education for
underserved populations, including indigenous children in 900
schools and vocational training for 2,000 out of school youth.
As part of our Feed the Future work, in Honduras USAID aims
to lift 50,000 families out of extreme poverty, reduce stunting
of children under 5 by 20 percent and improve more than 280
kilometers of rural roads, providing market access to thousands
and thus improving economic prosperity.
In addition, the private sector has a role and USAID is
aggressively pursuing partnerships with the private sector both
here in the United States as well as in the region, as civil
society organizations bring more resources and more creativity
In the last several years, USAID has leveraged
approximately $40 million for partnerships with companies,
local organizations and local governments in the region. For
example, in El Salvador we are partnering with Microsoft to
provide computer software and training to outreach centers to
reach 25,000 youth in 13 high-risk municipalities.
Our prevention efforts are designed both to have an
immediate and measurable impact, but more importantly, to prove
concepts and demonstrate that such investments can provide
dividends beyond their cost.
Preliminary findings from a 3-year impact evaluation
provides statistically significant evidence that crime rates
are lower and public perception of security is higher in the
areas in which we work. This is good news, but the efforts need
to be scaled up to see an impact on national level statistics.
Mr. Chairman, USAID is well positioned when done in
partnership with governments and the private sector in the
region, and when successful programs are taken to scale to help
improve economic and social well being in the region.
By working together to keep children in school, train out
of school youth for jobs and connect small farmers to markets
as well as creating entry points for historically marginalized
groups, the region can become more secure and prosperous for
This has been, and will continue to be, a principal focus
for USAID and these efforts will continue to benefit citizens
throughout the Americas. Thank you, and I look forward to
answering any questions you may have.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Lopes follows:]
Mr. Salmon. Thank you. I thank the witnesses for their
testimonies. I will yield myself 5 minutes, and then will
proceed with the ranking member and thank the witnesses.
Mr. Lopes, thank you for your testimony and for outlining
the various ways USAID has been working to improve the
situation in Central America.
Unfortunately, I have seen many of your colleagues come up
to the Hill to deliver notifications on one program or another,
but always lacking in specificity. The American people are, as
you know, exceedingly generous in providing aid to countries in
need to improve the lives of their citizens.
Indeed, USAID efforts in Mexico and Central America can
have a direct impact on our own security and lives, as this
current crisis reflects. Enforced immigration laws combined
with economic opportunity and security in Central America would
have kept young children in their countries with their
What I am saying is that I am supportive of USAID's efforts
to help empower the nations of Central America as long as the
money that we are spending is effective and efficient.
I would like to see a comprehensive list country by
country, project by project, including costs, implementing
partner details and how specifically the said project directly
helps the crisis level in security and lack of economic
opportunity we are seeing in some Central American countries
today, namely, the three that we have talked about. Can you
provide me with those details?
This level of specificity would go a long way in helping us
to evaluate the effectiveness of our efforts there while being
truly accountable to the taxpayer, and I think you would agree
that we owe the taxpayer at least that.
Mr. Lopes. Absolutely, Congressman. Yes, we can provide
that information and certainly willing to work with your office
and happy to come up and make sure that you have----
Mr. Salmon. That would be great.
Mr. Lopes [continuing]. A comprehensive set.
Mr. Salmon. And I will share it with the committee when I
Mr. Lopes. Absolutely, and I also referenced in my opening
statement one of the efforts that we have done to do a
scientific analysis of the impact of our programs. This was an
effort with Vanderbilt University to look at control groups and
Mr. Salmon. Right.
Mr. Lopes [continuing]. In communities where we had an
impact, and we have seen statistically significant progress in
the areas in which we work.
Mr. Salmon. Can we get those reports too? That would be
Mr. Lopes. I'd be happy to share that with you.
Mr. Salmon. Thank you very much. And then I am going to ask
one last question, and then I am going to ask Mr. Duncan to
take over the chair for just a few minutes. I have got another
thing I have got to attend to.
But with both of you--with the USAID mission in Ecuador
closing and our mission in the diplomatic environment in
Bolivia it continues to present difficulties for our officers
since the closing of USAID and the expulsion of our Ambassador
Have State and USAID been looking for ways to redirect
funding otherwise intended for Ecuador and Bolivia potentially
going to address this crisis and working with Central America?
I understand that some of the Ecuador USAID money is now going
to environmental projects in Colombia and Jamaica.
While I don't intend to denigrate the potential long-term
benefits of sensitizing our neighbors to environmental
stewardship, I would submit to you that this is maybe a far
more immediate crisis and maybe we should try to direct some of
that money to this crisis as well.
Is that something that could be within the realm of
Mr. Lopes. I can speak to that, Congressman. Happy to
outline. With respect to the Ecuador money, that money was
already designated to go to environment programs, particularly
in the Andean Amazon. So we did not have the flexibility to
divert those resources toward crime prevention programs in
But that is the kind of flexibility that certainly we
benefit from and our ability to have fully funded accounts as
well as the flexibility to move those resources accordingly
certainly helps us pivot quickly and direct resources toward
where they are needed.
Over the last several years, we have seen a shift in
budgetary priorities from South America to Central America. In
these budget times, a flatline is the new increase and that is
where we have preserved resources for Central America,
particularly focused on Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, to
make sure that those countries, and particularly the efforts on
crime prevention, were the overarching focus of USAID's work
there combined with a series of other economic prosperity
programs that we see as a part of the entire package toward
having real jobs and real opportunities over the long run.
So certainly the flexibility to provide those resources is
useful, and we are happy to work with you to figure out what
kind of things can be freed up looking----
Mr. Salmon. Well, if there is anything that we can do to
maximize that flexibility so that we can get the money to where
we have actually got the problems--the most immediate
problems--then I think we are all interested in a bipartisan
way to get that done.
I am going to yield back and ask the gentleman. He is next.
Mr. Duncan. The Chair recognizes Mr. Sires from New Jersey.
Mr. Sires. Thank you very much. This past week the Hispanic
Caucus called a number of members to meet with some of the
Ambassadors of these countries because of this crisis, and it
was very disappointing to me that we had 13 members and only
Mr. Duncan. If we could start the clock back at 5 minutes
just due to the interruption in the back.
Mr. Sires. Thank you. It was very disappointing to me that
only one Ambassador showed up, and I let him know that we were
all very disappointed because we all have our schedule.
So my question to you basically is how serious or seriously
are these countries taking the effort to deal with this
Because that to me was a sign that all they are looking for
is they have a pressure cooker in their own country and this is
one way of releasing some of that pressure and, you know, I am
here to work--I have been here 8 years.
I try to work as much as I can on a bipartisan basis to try
to deal with some of these problems in the Western Hemisphere,
especially these countries.
But to have a situation like this and not have the decency
to show up where 13 members who are their best supporters just
makes it more difficult for us to assist them and more
difficult for us to come up with some sort of immigration
So I am asking you in your dealings with some of these
Ambassadors, some of these countries, give me a perception--
your perception of how seriously do they take this, or they are
saying just send them to America and the pressure is off us.
Mr. Palmieri. Thank you, Mr. Sires. The three Ambassadors
from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are all working very
hard and have had extensive engagements with the
But more importantly than their engagements with us is the
real work that they are doing to get additional consular
personnel from their Embassies to the border region to
facilitate the processing of these arrivals and ensuring the
documents that they need to be able to identify these
Mr. Sires. You know, that is all well and good. But I want
to know what they are doing in their country to stymie this
exodus, because this is a humanitarian crisis. You have kids as
young as 5, young as 6.
Just give me your opinion on what they are doing--what are
they actually doing in their own country. And I must say that I
am very proud of the way this country has handled those
children because we have provided to them on a humanitarian
basis. We have taken care of them. But I want to know what is
going on in their own country.
Mr. Palmieri. In Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras,
senior leaders across the spectrum--the Presidents, the foreign
ministries--have been very active in echoing the messages about
the dangers of the journey, about the real vulnerability these
children suffer as they make that journey and are taking steps
The President of Honduras has redirected their border
enforcement units to focus on alien smuggling networks, and to
try to make a more effective interdiction of children leaving
the San Pedro Sula area.
He is dedicated and called together an inter-institutional
committee to address children's issues in the country with a
direct focus on trying to stop the children from leaving.
They all realize--all three countries' leaders realize how
vulnerable and exploited these children can be on this
dangerous journey. In Guatemala, President Perez Molina has
issued statements as well, and in one province along the
migration route through Guatemala there was a recent arrest of
a police official who apparently was facilitating some of this
type of smuggling.
In El Salvador, likewise, the Foreign Minister and the
President have been equally vocal about the real threat that
their children are suffering when they make this journey and
complementing the messages that we are saying, that there are
no immigration benefits when these children arrive at the
Mr. Sires. Do they recognize how difficult they make it on
this Congress to come up with a comprehensive immigration
reform when these things happen? Mr. Lopes, do you know?
Mr. Palmieri. I think all three countries understand that
the arrival of these unaccompanied children at the border will
complicate and is complicating efforts to promote comprehensive
Mr. Lopes. I think just a couple of examples from our side,
one that I mentioned in my testimony in terms of the 30
percent--I am sorry, the $600,000 of the $1 million pledge of
Honduran resources, that is part of a commitment to use funds
from a new security tax--30 percent of those for prevention
I am persuaded when governments put forward real money and
they put forward that money toward backing prevention programs.
So that is a positive. In addition, there is an asset seizure
law where the proceeds from those seized assets end up going
back to municipalities where those assets receive to help work
on prevention programs in those municipalities, so that there
is incentive for those municipalities to seize those assets, to
then see those resources coming back around to help on the
Those are the kinds of partnerships beyond strategies which
all free countries have which we see as new. The days of
recognizing that prevention is an important piece of this are
Ten years ago, we wouldn't have been talking about the
governments in the region being so acutely oriented toward the
importance of social programs of economic opportunity, but
rather focused more on law enforcement and efforts to punish
people for a deviation from laws.
Mr. Sires. My time is up. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Duncan. I thank the gentleman. I recognize myself for 5
This is a screen shot. This is one of the children. We are
not talking about teenagers here. We are talking about very,
very young--don't you love an iPad? You touch it in the wrong
place and it goes away.
It is a little girl. I would say she was probably, what,
Sean, you got small children. Three? Three years old? She's
coloring. All right.
So what we are talking about if you look at that map, that
area right there where that dot is dancing is the Guatemala-
Honduras area, the Mexican border. Brownsville, Texas is right
here, the Rio Grande Valley.
From the capital city of Honduras to Brownsville is well
over 1,000 miles. Sean, could your 3-year-old travel 1,000
miles without you, without your adult children, your older
children accompanying them? I don't think so.
The question I have is this. Historically, this border
right here between Guatemala and Mexico has been one of the
hardest places in the world to get through. What is Mexico
doing to help us in this issue?
What has changed within the country of Mexico that it has
allowed 60,0000 children to transit that area? Whether they are
Honduran or Guatemalan or El Salvadorean, they crossed that
border and they came through Mexico to get to the United
They didn't get on an airplane. They walked or they rode a
train or in a car or something and we are talking about, what,
3-year-olds? So what has changed within Mexico and that border
situation? Mr. Palmieri.
Mr. Palmieri. Thank you, Mr. Duncan. Mexico is working very
hard with us to address these conditions, particularly on their
We are looking at redirecting some of our foreign
assistance through the Merida initiative to help strengthen
Mexican interdiction efforts along their southern border. They
have a southern border strategy that they have been executing.
I think they are working very hard with us to try to have an
impact on this flow and----
Mr. Duncan. But what has changed? Because historically it
is a tough border to cross. What has changed? What has changed
Mr. Palmieri. I think that the alien smuggling networks
have begun to prey on families' willingness to send these
children, and they are using some of their other established
smuggling routes to move these children through the region.
But the Mexican Government's commitment to work with us on
this has been reaffirmed and they are working closely with us
because they understand the true human costs to these children
and the need for better border enforcement and to work with the
three countries in Central America to help stem this flow.
Mr. Duncan. Let me shift gears for just a minute, because
we have talked a lot about funding today. The administration
has promised a series of new foreign assistance programs for
Central American countries.
However, according to a 2013--January of 2013 GAO report
less than 28 percent of the funds appropriated from the year
2008 through the Fiscal Year 2011 have been disbursed. Why is
this? And hold that question.
Why is it necessary to make additional foreign assistance
commitments when you have not even used all the money that
Congress have given you? And Mr. Lopes, you are fine to answer
that--one of you.
Mr. Lopes. Sure. Thank you. I think what was referenced in
the GAO report is what we call pipeline, which is a build-up of
resources that have yet to go out the door. My understanding is
that pipeline is significantly diminished.
We are happy to provide you an updated set of information
with respect to those figures but also to say that, you know,
the efforts that we have undertaken as USAID to ramp up our
spending in these prevention efforts there is an absorptive
capacity limit that is not something we can go from zero to
$100 million from one day to the next.
It takes some time to build that up. We have been in that
process for several years, and I think we are well positioned.
You saw some recent announcement by President--I am sorry,
Vice President Biden with respect to new programs in the
region--large-scale programs. We have now up to 120 outreach
centers. So we are to a point where we are able to spend and
move resources much more quickly. That is positive.
In addition, we are also partnering with private sector and
leveraging other funds from the private sector to get resources
there. Resources there are certainly not the only piece of it.
We need the kind of partnership that Mr. Palmieri was
talking about from the governments in the region, from other
actors that care about the outcome. The private sector is one
that we have really aggressively reached out to because they
care about security as well. It is a business issue for them.
It is a bottom line issue.
It affects their bottom line when people can't get to work
on the buses. And so we have, through a series of partnerships
and creative efforts, to get cameras on buses in San Pedro
Sula, Honduras to get a police force that monitors those
There are 54 cameras spread throughout the buses because
they saw that buses is where the crimes are taking place and so
what about a creative solution to work with the private sector
Another effort is to get the private sector to donate
street lamps. Those street lamps are then upgraded by the
national electric utility, and the businesses get the benefit
of those lights and everyone benefits from security.
So it takes some time. We think we are there and we are
getting to a point where we can spend a lot more and a lot
Mr. Duncan. I appreciate your comment. You kept going back
to private sector, and we are talking about public sector
dollars in programs to foreign countries, and I understand the
public-private partnership and how USAID works. But let me just
say this and then end the time here.
I understand the humanitarian side of this. I am very
sympathetic to the children that are there. I want what is best
But I also am very concerned about the national sovereignty
of this nation and our porous southern border and also elements
that may be coming along with the children that are transiting
into our country and what they are coming for. So I think you
are going to need to be able to answer that question.
If you are going to ask me to provide a vote for more
dollars for foreign aid to Central America, you are going to
have to able to provide a little bit more explanation of why
this money hasn't been spent or an explanation of how it has
been if not allocated dedicated--that is, future expenditures
and how it is going to be spent.
Whether that is a graph or whether that is information to
this committee, I think we deserve that if we are going to
actually cast a vote to provide you more dollars.
And with that, I will yield to the gentleman, Mr. Meeks.
Mr. Meeks. Thank you. You know, just seems to me when I
think about the creation of our country it was from individuals
that were fleeing bad situations to a better situation.
It is almost just human nature if you see something that is
better you try to get to what is better and you want your child
to have a better life than you have had. And so it is
difficult, and based upon what I know specifically about this
problem I would like to emphasize a few things real quickly,
then ask a couple of questions because I think that this should
be a wake-up call, number one--a wake up call that would cause
us to refocus our attention on the Western Hemisphere--our
region of the world.
Current migration patterns demonstrate if we don't pay
attention to what is happening just beyond our borders it will
be to our own children. While the headlines of the day may draw
attention to faraway places like Iraq and Iran and Ukraine and,
make no mistake, these are important issues that also demand
our attention, but we must not lose sight of what is happening
closer to home.
The reality is truly terrifying when you think about
homicide rates and when you think about the fact that maybe a
third of everybody in either whether it is Guatemalans,
Hondurans or Salvadorans report being victims of a crime within
the last year, the statistics go on. They are just staggering.
Secondly, this is a serious humanitarian crisis which
demands the attention of both our domestic and foreign policy
experts, and we must study the underlying social and economic
factors present in these countries.
Lastly, we must also understand the inherent
interconnectedness of the Americas and indeed of the global
village at large. Gone are the days when we could analyze a
country's domestic problems in a vacuum and as a result of the
globalization problems like this one we must have a bipartisan,
which I think we are trying to do in this committee, and
multilateral strategies to rid Latin America and the Caribbean
of the violence and gangs which are leaving our children with
no option but to flee their homes in pursuit of a brighter
That being said, I have been a long champion of trade
capacity building. It was a significant part of the CAFTA
negotiations in 2003 and 2004. In fact, it was the determining
factor on why I was one of the few Democrats that voted for
CAFTA because of the money that was put into trade capacity
So that was part of it. It was millions of dollars we
appropriated for this and USAID received a large percentage of
these funds as well as a large percentage of the responsibility
for ensuring that they were used wisely.
So my question is have you been able to provide--and this
is for either Mr. Lopes or Mr. Palmieri--an update or can you
provide an update on the status of these funds and how have
they been spent?
Mr. Lopes. Certainly. Thank you, Congressman. I would like
to give you a comprehensive written response to that to make
sure that we cover all the funds.
My understanding of those resources during the time of the
CAFTA program is that there was a period of years through which
there was a set amount that was dedicated toward particular
training activities to dedicate resources to compensate for
what was seen as shortcomings in their ability to carry out and
to implement the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
A lot of those efforts have run their course although, and
so some of those programs I think have closed and resources
have been dedicated toward new areas or ongoing priorities.
I think it is certainly worth a look to ensure that the
purposes for which those funds were dedicated have stuck, and
that the capacities that we have put in there are still strong
and that those trade agreements are still working.
I am not sure to what extent there is a scope for USAID to
engage in that or resources to follow up, but certainly I think
a conversation around ensuring that any economic capacity
building resources are being used as effectively as possible,
and our office is happy to engage with yours on that.
Mr. Palmieri. In addition, I think CAFTA-DR has had a
measurable positive impact. The central economy--the Central
American economies on average have doubled their GDP over the
last 10 years.
Exports to the United States through CAFTA are up 66
percent. While CAFTA is not the only component of our program
in the region, it is making a significant impact in
contributions in some of the root conditions.
Mr. Meeks. But here is the--here is the issue, and we have
some of it here. You know, we talk about GDP and that is good.
But sometimes that does not translate down to the common
person who is trying to get a job and want to better themselves
and improve their families. So the GDP sounds good for maybe 1
or 2 percent at the top but what about everyone else?
And that was part of what--the capacity building so that
the jobs that would be created--it was about creating jobs here
in America but also importantly about creating jobs there
because guess what, folks? If we create jobs there they won't
come here. You know, they come here for opportunity.
So that is what is important to get done. So I would like
to see a comprehensive report to look at the jobs that we could
have created there so that individuals have an opportunity and
then talk about the security network that surrounds that,
because if that happens then we don't have to worry about, you
know, people crossing our borders all the time.
Mr. Palmieri. Yes, sir.
Mr. Duncan. I thank the gentleman for his comments and the
Chair recognizes Mr. Duffy from Wisconsin.
Mr. Duffy. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In my short time here
in Congress--3\1/2\ years--I don't think I have seen an issue
that has made me more angry than seeing 4-year-olds and 6-year-
olds and 8-year-olds by themselves with smugglers or coyotes
coming to the American border.
I have kids those age--4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14--a lot of them.
And I could tell you what, to think that they could be
traveling on their own to the American border is absolutely
outrageous and that our Government has played a part in this
push--in the pull of the push and pull is absolutely outrageous
and it is unacceptable.
Mr. Palmieri, in your comments about--oh, let me--I won't
go there. Do you have a report for us about what kind of
horrors these children experience during their 100-plus--
hundreds of miles journey here? Rape, abuse, murder? What
information do you have on what they experience on their route
Mr. Palmieri. The journey is incredibly dangerous and----
Mr. Duffy. I know that. What specifics do you have?
Mr. Palmieri. And we know that individuals and children in
particular who undertake that journey suffer different forms of
violence. They could be sexually----
Mr. Duffy. Have you done studies?
Mr. Palmieri [continuing]. There are reports of sexual
assault. There are reports of mass killings in the past. There
are reports of being kidnapped, and then extorted for
additional funds as they are crossing along the journey.
There are reports of children who have been maimed trying
to board trains that are moving to the north. The dangers are
significant. They are very well documented, and we can get you
a full report on that.
Mr. Duffy. I would welcome that. Are you a parent?
Mr. Palmieri. I am a parent, and I also----
Mr. Duffy. Okay. I just want to ask you a question. So do
you think that you need your government to tell you that--I
don't know how old your children are, but if you have a 4-year-
old do you need the government to say, listen, you are going to
send your child, your 4-year-old or your 6-year-old, on a
multiple 100-mile journey?
It is dangerous. You don't know the coyote. You don't know
the smuggler. News flash to all of you who want to spend money
to go, this is a dangerous trip for my child. I would say that
It muddies the message, and you told us that is part of the
messaging that you are doing in these countries. I think it
makes more sense to say the American border is closed. This
trip will be for naught. If you get there, I am sorry. We are
The President has talked about our DREAMers. But if you
come you are going to be sent back. Don't make the trip. But
that you are telling parents that this is dangerous, parents
aren't stupid. I mean, this is insulting that you tell a parent
that it is a dangerous trip.
Mr. Palmieri. The messages combine both messages, Mr.
Duffy. Not only are we explaining the dangers of the journey
and making it very real for these parents to consider, but we
are also making clear that there are no immigration benefits in
the United States when you arrive.
Mr. Duffy. Are you telling them that the border----
Mr. Palmieri. That there will be no----
Mr. Duffy. So to that point are----
Mr. Palmieri [continuing]. Benefit under the deferred
action on childhood arrivals, that there will be no benefit
under comprehensive immigration reform.
Mr. Duffy. And to back up that point, have you been sending
any of these children back home?
Mr. Palmieri. There have been very few----
Mr. Duffy. That is right. There has been very few. So
Mr. Palmieri [continuing]. Deportations of the
unaccompanied children because we have to first attend to their
Mr. Duffy. So wouldn't the message----
Mr. Palmieri [continuing]. And connect them to a guardian
or a relative who can receive them.
Mr. Duffy. So the message really is you send them and they
don't get deported. They haven't been deported. They get to
You can say all you want but the messaging has been if you
send your children to the American--the U.S. border they will
be allowed in and they won't be sent back to the country of
origin, and I think that is the wrong message. And you would
agree that this is a humanitarian crisis that involves
Mr. Palmieri. It is an acute humanitarian situation these
children are suffering.
Mr. Duffy. What is the pull that has brought these kids to
the United States?
Mr. Palmieri. The factors we see, and it is a very complex
issue as you have just outlined, is there are factors both in
their home country related to----
Mr. Duffy. That is the push. I'm talking about what is the
pull. What is the pull bringing them up here?
Mr. Palmieri. And they have family members, obviously, in
the United States that they are trying to reunite.
Mr. Duffy. Do you think it has anything to do with the
President's comments about immigration--the President's
policies on our border?
Mr. Palmieri. I think the administration's message has been
very clear since this situation has expanded, that there are no
immigration benefits for these children who are arriving; that
they will be given notices to appear for deportation
proceedings and that the journey will be futile.
Mr. Duffy. This is a humanitarian crisis that involves
children. I think it is of the utmost seriousness. What
comments publicly has the President made to say listen, our
borders aren't open and if you send your children they will be
deported back to their country of origin? What public comments
has he made to that effect?
Mr. Palmieri. The messages we are sending out are really
loud and clear.
Mr. Duffy. That is not my question for you. No, no, no, no.
My question is what has--this is serious stuff. It involves
children. What has the President said publicly about sending
these children home? He hasn't said anything, has he?
Mr. Palmieri. I will gather the President's statements and
Mr. Duffy. He has--he has made public statements to this
effect? I haven't seen them. I haven't heard them. You have?
Mr. Palmieri. In the announcement about the humanitarian
situation, the President emphasized that we had a humanitarian
Mr. Duffy. Did he say that our borders were closed? I mean,
it is a humanitarian crisis but he is not saying listen, of
course, it is a humanitarian crisis but listen everybody, our
borders are closed. If you come we are going to send you back
That would go a long way to sending the message to these
specific three countries that if you send your kids it is
dangerous, and they are not going to get the benefit that you
talked about in your testimony.
If the President says that, that goes a long way and I
think save the little kids' lives. I used to prosecute child
sexual assault cases.
They are the most horrific cases that you will ever handle
as a prosecutor, and to think that these kids will go through
these horrors and the President won't stand up and say listen,
there is no benefit--please don't send your children, and he
says it publicly and strongly. I think that is the wrong
message from this administration. I yield back.
Mr. Salmon. Thank you. Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith. Thank you very much and I want to thank my
friend, Mr. Duffy, for raising the issue. This is serious stuff
and we all get it.
Like my colleagues, I am extremely concerned about the
welfare and well being of these children. Back in the early
1980s, I wrote the Child Survival Fund, put it at $50 million
and went to El Salvador when there was a day of tranquility
when the FMLN and Napoleon Duarte had a cease fire simply to
vaccinate children against polio, diphtheria, pertussis.
So members of this panel and Mr. Duffy, as having
prosecuted some of these horrific cases, we are in solidarity
with these children. We are deeply concerned about it.
So I would like to ask a few very specific questions
because they are vulnerable to sickness. They are vulnerable to
abuse and even death. I have worked on neglected tropical
diseases for the entirety of my 34 years as a Member of
We have a bill pending that deals with that. Last year I
had a hearing on NTDs by one of the greatest experts in the
world, Peter Hotez, ``Forgotten People, Forgotten Diseases.''
He points out that in this very incisive book as you know, I'm
sure, to my friend from USAID, the places where these kids are
coming from are endemic with hookworm, roundworm, whipworm and
many, many other parasitic infections.
This long journey, the strain on their young and very
fragile beings, certainly can exacerbate those problems. So
first question, are U.S. medical personnel screening for NTDs?
Are they asking the right questions, doing the right kind
of analysis to determine whether or not a child is carrying
worms which certainly makes him or her vulnerable to other
Secondly, on human trafficking, I am the author of the
Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. It is the bill, the
landmark bill on combating trafficking, yet in my own district
in Lakewood we had a situation where a Mexican trafficker had a
number of Mexican women and young girls.
That was busted. They are being prosecuted. We have
Honduran gangs in Trenton. They are doing the same thing with
mostly Honduran young girls and we know it is everywhere.
Gangs have not replaced but have been added to the issue or
the exploiters and we know that these gangs, including some of
these gangs coming out of Central America, are exploiting young
girls and young women.
So my question would be about trafficking. What is being
done to mitigate the possibility and, I would say, high
probability of these girls and young women being forced into
prostitution and to other kind of servitude?
There was a report that just came out, and I would commend
it to your reading that something on the order of 90 percent--
88 percent was the number they give--of trafficked women at
some point have contact with a health care provider.
About 60 percent are emergency rooms, and yet, from the
interviews of well over 100 trafficked women it was discovered
with shock and dismay that they never asked, even though there
was bruising, there were other kinds of indicators of abuse,
whether or not that woman was in trouble and needed to be
My hope is that our health officials and others will be
looking for the telltale signs, many of which are subtle but
looking for them nevertheless to ask the right questions--are
you being trafficked, are you being exploited? Because that is
a huge problem.
You know, we see it with tsunamis and with hurricanes. We
were very concerned when the hurricane or typhoon hit the
Philippines, and I went to the Philippines. Every question I
asked was about what is being done to ensure the exploited are
not and USAID did a wonderful job, frankly, during that typhoon
period to ensure that that didn't happen.
I know I will run out of time, but HHS is vetting--when
people are handed over and children are handed over to
relations that might be family how are they vetting to ensure
that who that child is passed over to is not an abuser, a
trafficker or someone purporting to be a family member?
Are they overwhelmed to the point where they are
contracting that out? Because that would be a serious problem.
I mean, how well--you know, we don't want to find 6 months from
now that kids have been passed over to trafficking rings, and
it can happen.
It can happen very easily when you have an overflow of
crisis like this. So if you could touch on that as well. And
finally, the administration is pushing fast track of the Trans-
Pacific Partnership and the inclusion of Vietnam within the
Four Congresses in a row I have gotten passed in the House
the Vietnam Human Rights Act. It has died in the Senate each
time, sadly. It may get passed this year--who knows? But we
know that even the State Department's book on trafficking just
came out on Friday that Vietnam is a major source of labor
trafficking and many products are made with child labor in
And yet they will now, if this treaty goes through on fast
track, be in a situation where they will displace many of the
textile capabilities of the Central American countries and put
them out of business.
When you have forced labor, those dirt cheap wages, if
there are wages at all, certainly makes the competitive
advantage go toward Vietnam.
Is that being considered with the TPP or are you guys, for
example, in the Western Hemisphere saying time out, Vietnam is
an abuser, this will hurt Central America and will hurt El
Salvador in an extremely--in an extreme way, and I think that
is--we have got to put that on the radar.
So if you could speak to that as well, and I thank the
chair for yielding time and if they could answer those
questions I would deeply appreciate it.
Mr. Salmon. You know what? Go ahead. Take your time and
answer those questions. This is the last question, and then we
will close after that. So no problem.
Mr. Palmieri. With regard to the screening processes of the
children who are arriving, my understanding is that the Health
and Human Services Department has the primary responsibility
and would have the best information.
We do understand that there is both psychological and
medical screening of all these children when they arrive, and
that there is background checks done on who these children are
being turned over to once they are processed through. The HHS--
Mr. Smith. But how do you do a background check? Is it----
Mr. Palmieri. I would say we would have to get back to you
with a more specific answer----
Mr. Smith. If you could get back with more specifics on
that I would appreciate it.
Mr. Palmieri [continuing]. From the Health and Human
Services Department. I think your comments about the potential
impact of TPP on Central America is something that we are all
watching closely in the Western Hemisphere, in particular those
The trade representative have given us good information
that TPP should not have a direct negative impact as the CAFTA-
DR benefits should allow these countries to continue their
access to our market even after TPP is moved forward. And I
think that is----
Mr. Smith. Because of tropical diseases perhaps USAID
wanted to get this.
Mr. Lopes. Sure. Thank you, Congressman. First of all,
thank you for your comments about USAID and their response, and
thank you for your leadership on this issue.
In 4 years in this job it is the first time that neglected
tropical diseases has come up in a direct briefing or hearing
that I have participated in, and I know that those issues are
very real for a lot of people.
It is part of our effort to continue with a broad base of
programs--environment, health, agriculture--that are sort of
all woven in to the root causes of opportunity. Health--if
people can't sort of get through the basic health the first 5
years of their life they are certainly not going to be able to
be positioned well to have opportunities and the ability to
have an economic well being, which we have heard from our
initial assessments, trying to understand why people are
getting on these buses and trains--that, you know, certainly,
that is one of the causes they have referenced.
We have limited health programs in the region compared to,
say, 5 years ago in Latin America. We do have grants through
the Pan American Health Organization and we do have some
limited engagement on neglected tropical diseases. I can't
speak specifically to hookworm or roundworm but we are happy to
Mr. Smith. Is that something you could ask--also ask HHS or
whoever is administering the program who is on the ground?
Because if they are not looking for it, again, co-morbidity is
very high and these kids are walking with worms. Rather than
feed the future we are feeding the worms and I know, you know,
you understand that.
But if it is not being done as they come across the border
this is a golden opportunity, one of the good positive outcomes
that come from this mass influx, is to screen these kids and
get them the deworming drugs to improve their lives.
Mr. Salmon. If I could interject, I went and visited the
facility in Nogales where there is 1,250 children. So
Representative Smith, there is 140 CBP officers working to care
for these children and then there are FEMA representatives and
there are HHS people there and they are doing health screenings
for every child that is there.
Now, I don't know about the specifics of the worm issue but
I know that the health of these children is a prime focus of
our personnel that are on the ground working with these
In fact, one of the young teenagers that was there actually
had a baby. Now, she didn't have it there in the facility. They
took her to the local hospital in Nogales. But I saw her in one
of the facilities with the baby by her side. And so----
Mr. Smith. I appreciate that, and I appreciate your work on
NTDs as well--a leader in the Congress. But if that is
something you could check with them--if they are not looking
perhaps to look to provide some healthier outcomes for these
Mr. Lopes. Yes. Certainly, I will get----
Mr. Smith. I appreciate it. And on the trafficking real
quick, hopefully the interagency council headed up by Luis
CdeBaca is deploying very knowledgeable people to hopefully
catch this working with law enforcement, of course, because it
has gone under--right under our nose--two of my cities, major
I will never forget when Chris Christie was U.S. Attorney.
Remember that? Albio Sires will remember this. A bedroom
community, whole group of Mexican minors found having been
He busted up that ring and thankfully repatriated the young
girls with their parents and families. But it could be going on
in a very, very dangerous and robust way, if we are not
careful, under the guise of this influx of children.
Mr. Duncan. Will the gentleman yield?
Mr. Smith. Yes.
Mr. Duncan. I just want to say for the record, Mr.
Chairman, there is not a single person on this dais or on this
committee or in this Congress that is not very sympathetic to
the humanitarian challenge that we have down there concerned
about the children.
Oftentimes our comments are taken--when we focus on the
border we focus on immigration reform, we focus on security and
national security issues and what not. But we are very
concerned about the children, and we want to make sure they are
We want to make sure they are reunited with their parents,
hopefully in their home country, so they can return back to a
normal way of life in their country and don't put a strain on
the American resources.
But I think that is lost in the debate a lot of times that
we are not concerned about children and absolutely we are. And
so with that, I appreciate the gentleman yielding.
Mr. Salmon. And I am going to go ahead and just provide
closing statements, and I am going to kind of segue from what
you just said because it is about security. It is about our
But more than anything, the thing that kind of trumps them
all is that the current policy is not compassionate. It is not,
because for every child that ends up in one of these facilities
and then is in the United States for 7 years waiting for a
hearing because of some of our laws and we need to change
those--we do--a child didn't make it.
The child may have died in the desert. The child may have
been killed. That child may have been sold into slavery. And so
what we are doing now is not compassionate, it is not smart and
is not good policy.
And so we need to make sure that we send a clear message to
those countries that if they pay $5,000 to $8,000 to get their
child to America to get a free pass it is not going to be
They won't get a free pass. Then they won't be spending
that money anymore with these coyotes to get that done. They
just won't. It will be a deterrent.
And so it is in all of our interests, on both sides of the
aisle, to get that done and make sure that these children are
back with their families in that loving environment.
So that having been said, this subcommittee is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 3:22 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned.]
A P P E N D I X
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