Washington, D.C. May 16, 2019 – Senate Democrats announced the reintroduction of a major legislative proposal to address the root causes of the Central American migrant crisis. The proposal, which was introduced by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senate Committee on the Judiciary Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Senate Committee on Appropriations Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), and Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), outlines the coordinated regional response needed to effectively manage the endemic violence and humanitarian crises in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras that are forcing many women, children, and families to flee to seek refuge in the U.S.
Specifically, the Senate Democrats’ Central America Reform and Enforcement Act would:
- Condition assistance to Northern Triangle governments to address the root causes of the violence and instability that are driving migration. El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are among the most dangerous countries in the world, especially for women and children. Their populations face unrelenting and increasing violence, including murder and rape, perpetrated by armed criminal gangs and drug traffickers that act with impunity. The Democrats’ bill provides conditional assistance to these governments to restore the rule of law; create a more secure environment for children and families; strengthen democratic public institutions and reduce corruption; and promote economic opportunities. Assistance funding is conditioned on the State Department certifying that the governments are implementing reforms and making progress on critical priorities.
- Crack down on smugglers, cartels, and traffickers exploiting children and families. Smuggling and trafficking rings exploit the desperation of those seeking protection. The Senate Democrats’ bill creates new criminal penalties for human smuggling, schemes to defraud immigrants, and bulk cash smuggling. It also expands the work by the Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies to disrupt and prosecute smuggling and trafficking rings.
- Minimize border crossings by expanding refugee processing in the region. Ongoing, rampant violence in the region suggests that women and children will continue to flee to other countries in search of protection. The Senate Democrats’ bill helps Mexico and other Central American countries to strengthen their own asylum systems, expands refugee processing for third-country resettlement and creates a new refugee processing program to provide women and children an alternative to making the dangerous journey north.
- Enhance monitoring of unaccompanied children after they are processed at the border. The U.S. government lacks the resources to track unaccompanied children after they are processed by Border Patrol and are placed with a sponsor, usually a close family member. The Senate Democrats’ bill strengthens the Department of Health and Human Services’ ability to oversee the safety and wellbeing of children released to an adult sponsor while they await their court hearing by requiring consistent, uniform and timely background checks, post-placement wellness checks and post-release services. The bill also provides resources and guidance to local school districts enrolling unaccompanied children.
- Ensure fair, orderly and efficient processing of those who do reach our border seeking protection. The United States has a long tradition of standing up for refugees around the world and we have the capacity and responsibility to do so now with those fleeing increasing violence in our own hemisphere. The Senate Democrats’ bill provides a fair legal process for children and families seeking asylum, improves immigration court efficiencies by requiring a significant increase in the number of immigration judges to ensure the prompt resolution of immigration claims, and establishes reintegration programs in the region that reduce the likelihood of remigration for those who do not have legal grounds to stay in the United States.
“While the Trump administration’s actions exacerbate issues at the southern border, Senate Democrats are committed to addressing the root causes that force families to flee Central America in the first place,” said Democratic Leader Schumer (D-NY). “The Central America Reform and Enforcement Act is a common sense proposal based on solutions that have shown success in the past and seeks to stem the flow of asylum claims at our border, crack down on the drug cartels causing the violence that forces people to flee, and provide a safer path to asylum for families in Central America.”
“Democrats support smart, effective, and humane border security. But President Trump’s failed anti-immigrant policies have exacerbated the situation at our southwest border. It should be clear to the President and his administration that you cannot prevent outflows of irregular migration without addressing the root causes of that migration,” said Democratic Whip Durbin (D-IL). “Our legislation would do just that – by addressing the root causes of violence in these countries, while also requiring accountability from the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to ensure they are taking appropriate steps domestically to combat corruption and address irregular migration.”
“Families are fleeing alarming levels of violence, corruption, and poverty in Central America,” said Judiciary Ranking Member Feinstein (D-CA). “By punishing refugees through cruel policies like family separation, President Trump is only making things worse. Instead of turning our backs on our neighbors, we should help address the horrific conditions forcing families to abandon their homes and create a fair and humane asylum process.”
“The Trump administration has weakened U.S. national security, undercut international cooperation against transnational gang violence, increased illegal immigration, and endangered the lives of those forced to migrate,” said Foreign Relations Ranking Member Menendez (D-NJ). “After over two years of this misguided approach, it is increasingly clear we cannot wall off our nation from these challenges. We cannot tweet our way out of this problem. And while the administration may wish the Northern Triangle’s serious problems would just ‘go away’, we must address the root causes of this forced migration. This legislation is a response grounded in due process and child welfare principles so that the our government can more directly respond to the violence and weak rule of law forcing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in Central America, without ripping children away from their parents, caging them or forcibly returning them to a certain death.”
“President Trump’s decision to cut off aid to Central America is as impulsive and nonsensical as it is dangerous,” said Appropriations Vice Chairman Leahy (D-VT). “These countries can’t possibly deal with the rampant violence and poverty that are causing desperate families to flee, without our help. At the same time, the governments of these countries need to demonstrate that they are serious about fighting corruption and upholding justice, and that they care more about the lives of their own people than about enriching themselves and holding onto power. This bill strikes the right balance.”
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“If President Trump wants to get serious about solving the irregular migration at our border, he needs to address the root causes of the problem, not merely the symptoms at our border,” said Senator Carper (D-DE). “I’ve always supported smart, effective border security measures, but no amount of border security spending will work without continued investments in programs that address the root causes of migration from Central America. I’ve seen firsthand the violence, corruption and lack of economic opportunity in the Northern Triangle that force so many families to flee for their lives and seek safe haven at the U.S. Southern border. In February, I led a congressional delegation to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to drill down on these unimaginable conditions driving irregular migration. Time and again, I heard from government officials, community and faith leaders, and law enforcement that only once conditions improve in the region will we see a reduction in the tens of thousands of migrants who arrive at our border each month in search of a better life for their families. Today, my colleagues and I are introducing a bill that will support the region’s efforts to improve those conditions on the ground, and I hope the Trump administration will once again support this common sense approach.”
“When thousands of children and families are fleeing violence, abuse, and gangs in Central America, we cannot ignore the root causes of the crises that are forcing them to leave their home countries,” said Senator Hirono (D-HI). “We need a comprehensive solution to aid these families, not more of the Trump administration’s destructive, counterproductive, anti-immigrant policies. This legislation is an important step toward helping to ensure that children and families are treated humanely and protected from exploitation and violence.”
The legislation is also cosponsored by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
Statements From Organizations:
“Congratulations to the Senators who put this bill together. The Central American Reform and Enforcement Act recognizes that this crisis – a refugee and humanitarian crisis – needs to be met with with pragmatic solutions,” said Frank Sharry, Founder and Executive Director of America’s Voice. “This bill will bring order to the chaos fueled by the Trump administration’s mismanagement at our border, provide options and alternatives in the region for Central Americans those seeking safety, and, over time, will reduce out-migration from the northern triangle countries.”
“This bill is the real holistic solution to migration from Central America: a focus on root causes of migration, a refugee program in the region, and a fair process for asylum seekers,” said Kerri Talbot, Director of Federal Advocacy, Immigration Hub. “The administration’s family separation policy has done nothing to deter migration and has caused irreparable harm to children. This bill would actually solve the problem humanely and responsibly.”
“The IRC is proud to endorse the CARE Act, which addresses this humanitarian crisis by tackling its root causes in Central America,” said Nazanin Ash, Vice President, Public Policy and Advocacy, International Rescue Committee (IRC). “To date, the administration has focused on the symptoms of the crisis, but turning away families escaping violence and persecution is not only anti-American, it will also do nothing to address the regional instability that is forcing people to flee in the first place. This bill offers real solutions that uphold both America’s interests and its core values. The IRC commends Leader Schumer and the bill’s cosponsors for their humanitarian commitment and leadership.”
“The only real way to address the protection of children coming alone to seek safety in the United States is to support the governments of Central America to combat the violence, impunity, and corruption that force children to flee their countries,” said Wendy Young, President, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). “The Central America Reform and Enforcement Act also supports re-integration programs that help children stay safely and sustainably in their communities. KIND applauds this bill as a practical and effective solution to the immigration challenges we face.”
“The Central America Reform and Enforcement Act is a much more realistic approach to restore orderliness and safety at the border rather than the cruel, chaotic, and failed policies of the Trump administration,” said Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch and former USCIS Chief Counsel. “The bill seeks to address root causes of instability in Northern Triangle countries and to manage the flow of refugees with fair, efficient, and humane processing for families and children at the border and in the region – critical, practical, and effective solutions. Americans know how to address a surge in refugees, but our government has to be interested and willing to address the challenge, not politicize it. Democrats in the Senate are taking the right step by introducing legislation that not only ensures orderly border and refugee policies, but also treats families with dignity and enlists our neighbors in solutions to regional humanitarian, economic, and public safety issues.”