Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) today joined Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in reintroducing legislation to address the root causes of the Central American migrant crisis. The Central America Reform and Enforcement Act outlines a coordinated regional response 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.
“The growing crisis in Central America has forced thousands of families to flee their homes and seek asylum in the United States. This legislation takes a comprehensive approach to address the violence and corruption at the root of the crisis, mitigate the need for families to make the dangerous journey to the United States, and ensure they are treated humanely if they do arrive at our borders. I’ll continue working to ensure we live up to America’s highest ideals and honor our heritage as a refuge for people fleeing violence and persecution.”
The legislation is also cosponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
Specifically, the 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 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. This 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 bill helps Mexico and 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 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. This 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.