In a planned trip to Latin America this week, Vice President Joe Biden will meet with Central American leaders to discuss the recent influx of children coming to the United States without a parent or guardian.
Biden will be in Guatemala on Friday to meet with Guatemalan President Perez Molina as well as President Sanchez Ceren of El Salvador and a top official from Honduras. Biden will ask for their support to more quickly process and safely return unaccompanied minors to their home countries, according to the White House.
The high-level meeting comes as an unprecedented number of unaccompanied minors are coming across the United States-Mexico border illegally. As many as 47,000 unaccompanied minors have been caught trying to cross the Southern border so far this fiscal year, compared to the more than 24,000 unaccompanied minors who were apprehended at the border last fiscal year. Most of them come from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
The surge of unaccompanied Central American children crossing the U.S.-Mexican border is an issue of great concern to us, a senior Obama administration official said Sunday in a conference call with reporters. The children making this long journey are some of the most vulnerable individuals, and many become victims of violent crime and sexual abuse.
The official, who spoke in condition of anonymity, also said, Our top priority is to manage this urgent humanitarian situation. He noted that the U.S. government is currently providing housing, food and medical treatment to unaccompanied minors. Thousands of recently arriving unaccompanied minors are currently being held in several temporary processing centers in Arizona, California, Oklahoma and Texas. The centers were set up to help with the influx of children crossing the border without a parent or guardian.
But at the same time, we also realize that crucial importance of stemming the tide of migration, the senior administration official added.
Biden seeks to stem the flow of unaccompanied minors
While in Guatemala, Biden will hold a discussion over the root causes that are driving unaccompanied minors to come to the U.S. According to the senior administration official, violence and the lack of economic opportunities are two primary factors that are causing thousands of children to leave their Central American countries.
Biden will also emphasize that illegal immigration is not safe and that its also dangerous to put children in the hands of criminal smuggling organizations. He will also make it clear that the recently arriving children are not eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a federal program that provides temporary deportation relief and work authorization to undocumented youth who entered the country by June 15, 2007.
Furthermore, Biden will make it clear that children who recently arrived in the U.S. do not qualify for the earned path to citizenship provision thats included in the Senate-approved immigration reform bill.
The bottom line is that its not worth subjecting children to a perilous journey when, at the end of the day, there is no light at the end of the tunnel, the senior administration official said on Sunday.
Bidens visit to Guatemala will be his fourth and last stop in a weeklong trip to Latin America. He will visit Brazil, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.
On Monday, he will travel to Brazil to watch the U.S. Mens National Team take on Ghana in the first round of the World Cup. The following day, he will meet with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Vice President Michel Temer to consult on a number of issues, ranging from energy and economics, to science and technology, to regional and global issues.
Biden will then travel to Colombia on Tuesday evening, two days after Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won re-election. There, Biden will follow up on numerous discussions with Santos on finding new ways to advance the bilateral partnership between the U.S. and Colombia.
Before concluding his trip to Latin America on Friday, Biden will make his first trip to the Dominican Republic to meet with President Danilo Medina and Vice President Margarita Cedeño de Fernandez. During his visit there, Biden is expected to place special emphasis on energy security throughout the Caribbean and how the U.S. can contribute to advancing or improving energy across the Caribbean.
This will be Bidens second visit to the region this year and his eighth visit since 2009, according to the White House.