Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) cosponsored the Central American Reform and Enforcement Act, legislation that would provide a coordinated regional response to manage the horrific violence and humanitarian crisis in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The bill would require cooperation between the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Secretary of State, to work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to improve protections for the processing of vulnerable populations, particularly women and children fleeing violence.
“Families in Central America are fleeing unimaginable violence,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “We must approach this humanitarian crisis with a holistic strategy that addresses the root causes driving Central American women and children to our borders and provides safer avenues for them to seek asylum in the United States. This bill will help Northern Triangle governments better address this growing crisis and improve safety for women and children. It will also ensure a fair process for refugees seeking protection and prioritize the well-being of unaccompanied children.”
Funding for the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America is largely spent on development for good governance, economic growth, social welfare, security, and rule-of-law programs to prevent violence, reform justice-sector institutions, and combat gangs and organized crime. Of this aid, 41% has been given to the Northern Triangle. Through USAID support, Latin American nations have experienced economic growth, improved health indicators, and political advances. USAID works to combat crime, improve governance, address climate change, and create jobs. All of these efforts aim to mitigate the flow of refugees into the United States and keep people in their home countries. Additionally, there has been a rise in refugee resettlement in Mexico with up to 20,000 requests this year. Refugees have also been increasingly going to Belize, Costa Rica, and Panama.
If passed, the Central America Reform and Enforcement Act will:
- 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. The 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 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 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 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 re-integration programs in the region that reduce the likelihood of re-migration for those who do not have legal grounds to stay in the United States.