From the campaign trail to the White House, President Donald Trump has made halting the flow of illegal immigration into the United States a top priority. He’s been pressing for a new border wall, has added border patrol agents, and has stepped up the level of enforcement of U.S. immigration laws.
But one of the less heralded efforts has been the creation of a partnership that encompasses the United States, Mexico, and the countries that comprise Central America’s Northern Triangle: Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The idea behind the partnership is to address the challenges that lead residents to flee those countries and make the dangerous journey north to the United States. Those factors include a lack of economic prosperity, gang violence, and government corruption.
Leaders from each of those nations met in Washington on Oct. 11 for the second annual Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America, to discuss how to combat those issues.
“To stem the flow of illegal immigration and drugs…we must confront these problems together,” Vice President Mike Pence said at the conference’s opening remarks. “We are going to continue to enforce our borders, strengthen public safety, and promote economic growth across the region, all of which is designed to stem the flow of illegal migration.”
He noted there has been progress since their first meeting in June of 2017, including the appointment in Honduras of a strong attorney general to root out corruption and crime, and a partnership with El Salvador that led to the arrest of 60 gang leaders last year.
Despite the progress, work remains. Pence said 225,000 people from the Northern Triangle made the journey to the southern border of the United States last year. They accounted for more than half of all illegals apprehended there.
Pence asked the leaders to deliver a message to their people: Don’t risk the dangerous journey north to attempt to enter the United States illegally.
“The truth is, your message can probably be summed up by telling them that if they can’t come to the United States legally, they should not come at all,” Pence said. “Say it with strength, say it with compassion as neighbors and as friends. Because it’s the truth.”
Pence said people would stay in their home countries if there is a bright future for them. Economic opportunities will be discussed behind closed doors over the two days of meetings, but both Honduras and El Salvador believe reviving the coffee industry is the key.
President Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras said 90,000 families of small coffee producers in his country are being forced into poverty because of unfair coffee prices.
“This has given rise to migration,” Hernandez said. “This is deepening poverty and creating hopelessness.”
He added, “We need to underscore the need for equality and fairness in the coffee industry from the bean to the cup.”
Vice President Oscar Ortiz of El Salvador agreed.
“As a country, we’d like to reaffirm that we are completely convinced that this is the way forward,” Ortiz said.