Chargé’s Remarks at the Senate Forum on Unaccompanied Minor Children

Thank you to Senator Guerra for the invitation to participate in this very important meeting today.  And thank you to the other members of the panel for their work on this vital issue .

From October 1, 2013, to June 15, 2014, U.S. law enforcement agents apprehended more than 52,000 children entering the United States without required documentation and without adult family members.  This is nearly twice the number who entered during the entire previous year.  It represents an urgent humanitarian situation that has strained U.S. government resources, and the numbers continue to grow.

The human toll of this irregular immigration – death, injury, sexual assault, and other traumatic experiences – is immense and far reaching.  These children are regularly exposed to extreme danger and criminal abuse along the long migration journey.  They are being exploited and they are being put in great danger.  And it is a shared challenge that we must face together.

The United States is working very closely with Mexico and our Central American partners to address this issue.  We are coordinating with Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico to counter this recent dangerous surge in migrant children along the smuggling routes that run north through the region, and we are also enlisting international help in spreading the word of the dangers involved for these most vulnerable of migrants.  As Secretary Kerry has said, “This is a very complicated issue, and it’s not a question of assigning blame.  The only people to blame are the criminals who exploit young children.”

The highest levels of the U.S. Government are focused on addressing this challenge.  President Obama has requested an additional $3.7 billion from Congress that will go toward addressing the various aspects of the complicated problem we confront.  The additional funding will be focused on deterrence, enforcement, international cooperation, and capacity to care for and repatriate.

Vice President Biden visited Guatemala on June 20 where he met with President Pérez Molina and President Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador, as well as the senior representative of the Honduran government, to address the flow of unaccompanied children to the United States. We are pleased that Mexico’s Secretary of the Interior Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, also joined this meeting in demonstration of our shared commitment to find regional solutions.

Today, Secretary Johnson from the Department of Homeland Security together with Secretary Osorio Chong is in Guatemala to continue our multilateral engagement on this topic.  They will continue the high-level conversations on addressing this humanitarian situation in a way that reflects our respect for human rights and the rule of law.  They will also continue collaboration on addressing the root causes of migration.

We applaud President Peña Nieto’s announcement on Monday of a comprehensive strategy for its southern border.  I know the entire government has been working hard on this for more than a year and we welcome the efforts that are being made to facilitate and regulate legitimate migration and disrupt criminal organizations that have taken advantage of intending migrants in the past.

At the Regional Conference on Migration in Managua at the end of June, the United States, Mexico, and Central American governments agreed to undertake coordinated actions to detect traffickers, smugglers, and related crimes, in order to discourage irregular flows, including the trafficking and smuggling of unaccompanied migrant children.

And last week, on July 1, Secretary Kerry met in Panama with leaders from Central American countries to again emphasize the need to work together to address this regional challenge.  Secretary Kerry also underscored the critical importance of this issue with Mexican Foreign Secretary Meade when they met in Panama and when he visited Mexico in May.  These conversations have continued between Ambassador Wayne and Secretary Meade and numerous other senior Mexican officials as well leaders of civil society and representatives of international and religious organizations.

The State Department has been actively engaged in working with Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico to inform the public of the dangers of undocumented travel.  We are working with Central American and Mexican governments to address the root causes of violence and lack of opportunity that drive this migration.  We want to ensure that those who would seek to enter the United States illegally are fully aware not only of the dangers of the journey, but also the realities underpinning any proposed immigration reform legislation.  As Secretary Johnson from the Department of Homeland Security made clear in his recent public statements and as the White House confirmed on Monday, these children will not be granted permission to stay in the United States and will be returned to their countries of origin.

Here in Mexico, we are working together to enhance Mexico’s ability to monitor and control movement across Mexico’s southern border. Through Merida Initiative training programs and bilateral law enforcement cooperation, we are also supporting Mexican federal and state law enforcement authorities in their efforts to take down the human smuggling and criminal organizations that prey on these vulnerable migrants.

I am very grateful to be here today to join you in discussing ways that we can work together to better address this important challenge.  As Secretary said last week in Panama, “The lives of children cannot be put at risk this way.  We all have a responsibility as leaders to do our part to solve this problem.  And we will.”

Thank you.