Last summer, photos showing hundreds of children crammed into Border Patrol holding cells surfaced, calling attention to the unprecedented number of minors crossing the southwest border without a parent or guardian.
Many of these children came from Central America and were fleeing abuse and violence in their home countries. Others were coming to reunite with their parents in the United States.
Now, with the flow of unaccompanied minors likely to resume in the next few weeks, the United States is working with Central America to implement a long-term plan to stem the flow. Theyre calling it the Alliance for Prosperity.
Announced in November, the plan is led by officials from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. It is meant to address the root causes that drive unaccompanied minors to leave Central America and seek refuge in the United States.
On Monday, Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Guatemala City to follow up on the implementation of the Alliance for Prosperity. He is scheduled to meet with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador on Monday and Tuesday.
The Vice President and these leaders will outline concrete goals going forward to stimulate the regions economic growth; reduce inequality and promote educational opportunities; target criminal networks responsible for human trafficking; and create institutions that are transparent and accountable, the White House said in a statement.
While in Guatemala, Biden will also meet with representatives from the private sector and civil society to learn about the violence prevention programs and efforts that are in place.
Dr. Jill Biden also traveled to Guatemala City. She is scheduled to meet with the first ladies of Guatemala and Honduras on Monday and tour the facility of an organization that focuses on improving economic opportunities for at-risk youth living in Guatemala City.
According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, more than 67,000 unaccompanied minors from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico were apprehended last fiscal year, more than in any other year on record. This year, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) predicts that number will reach 41,000. Thats a 39 percent decrease from last year, but it will still be the second-largest number of minors ever recorded.
The surge of unaccompanied minors crossing the border last year brought new attention to the lack of economic opportunity as well as the rampant levels of crime and violence in Central America. It also made clear that unless these challenges are addressed, many children will continue to make the treacherous journey to the U.S.
A senior administration official said in a conference call with reporters on Friday that tackling the challenges in Central America really requires nothing less than systemic change as well as cooperation from the U.S.
We feel like we have a direct interest in helping our Central American neighbors succeed in this effort, the official said.
Biden stressed that same message in a New York Times op-ed published in January, through which he also announced that President Barack Obama would ask Congress to approve $1 billion in assistance to Central America. He wrote that the funds would help Central Americas leaders make the difficult reforms and investments required to address the regions interlocking security, governance and economic challenges.
But some members of Congress and humanitarian groups are concerned about giving money to Central America. They worry that much of it will end up in the hands of politicians instead of going toward efforts to help improve conditions in Central America.
A senior administration official addressed those concerns on Friday, saying: The message that we have delivered and that the vice president will be delivering in Central America when he meets with the leaders in Guatemala is that there needs to be concrete and well-planned, and well thought-out commitments by each of us to show that we are going to be spending resources effectively.