Senior Obama administration officials offered several proposals on Wednesday for stopping the flood of illegal immigrants over the southern U.S. border, except for one — enforce U.S. border laws.
In today’s Senate hearing on border issues, officials argued generally in response to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that the flood of immigrants is mostly being caused by poor economic conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
As a result, some officials proposed that the U.S. should find ways to boost the economy of these Central American countries. U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said fewer immigrants are coming from Mexico because Mexico has a safer environment and a healthier economy.
“We know that in the three Central American countries that we’ve been talking about, neither of those — economic opportunity nor safety and security — have been something to write home about,” he said.
Francisco Palmieri, a deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, added that the U.S. should help these countries boost their economies by levering the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement. Palmieri indicated that this would boost economic growth and reduce the incentive to leave their home countries.
“We need to push these countries to more actively integrate their economies and to take full advantage of that trade agreement and to expand economic opportunity and job creation in their own countries,” he said.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Thomas Winkowski said the U.S. should also work on “capacity building” with the Central American countries.
“I think we’ve got to continue to work with Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras on capacity building,” he said. “We need to stress to them the importance that they secure their borders.”
While no one suggested more border officials on the ground, Winkowski did allow that a quick and thorough deportation system is needed to act as a deterrent.
“When you do apprehend, then you have to have a policy where these individuals are detained and brought though the system quickly and decision are made, whether people get to stay here or they’re removed,” he said. “And if they’re going to be removed, they have to be removed quickly so it sends a message if you will, a deterrent factor.”