WILMINGTON — The United States owes it to the people of Central America to work with them to make the area safer and more prosperous, Sen. Thomas Carper believes.
Many Americans may deny it, but the United States is partially responsible for the crime, corruption and instability plaguing much of Latin America, Delaware’s senior senator said Wednesday, just hours after returning from a trip to El Paso, Texas, to see border facilities.
“We are complicit in their misery,” he told reporters standing outside the Latin American Community Center just off Interstate 95 in Wilmington. “We are complicit in their misery.
“Our addiction to drugs in this country — the drugs are trafficked up from Colombia through Central America through Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, corrupting officials, corrupting the economy, corrupting all kinds.
“And if we didn’t have an addiction to these drugs, frankly, little of that would happen. We have this addiction. Drugs are trafficked. And it has just created hell in these three countries.”
Accompanied by other U.S. representatives, Sen. Carper, the senior Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, visited several facilities overseen by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the federal Department of Health and Human Services on Monday and Tuesday. The senator spoke to many children seeking refuge and was surprised by how upbeat they were, he said.
His trip came amidst an increase in attempts to illegally cross the border or seek asylum in the United States over the past few months.
Many unaccompanied minors are hoping to gain entry to the United States, with some aiming to start new lives with relatives already here. Some of the minors making the trip by themselves are younger than 10, though most are 15, 16 or 17, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
They hail from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador or Mexico, per Customs and Border Protection.
Sen. Carper has “repeatedly” traveled to those countries, as well as Colombia, in recent years in an attempt to learn what’s driving the large-scale migrations and what should be done by authorities here, his office said.
The administration of President Joe Biden has taken a different approach than former President Donald Trump, who directed the government to turn away most individuals showing up at the border seeking refuge. The United States has begun accepting children but is still denying entrance to adults, with Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas emphasizing last month “the border is closed.”
Sen. Carper said Americans need to stop attempting to hand-wave away the problem, emphasizing that a long-term commitment from Washington is needed. Citing an agreement with Colombia in the 1990s that helped the country grow thanks to funding from the U.S. government, nonprofits, businesses and the Colombian government, he spoke in favor of a similar program started under former President Barack Obama.
The initiative, known as the Alliance for Prosperity, was intended to help boost the economy, reduce crime and combat corruption in Central America’s Northern Triangle, where Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are situated. Though the program was halted by the Trump administration, the underlying problems did not go away — if anything, they became worse, Sen. Carper said.
The region is particularly impacted by climate change, and those adverse effects figure to grow in the future unless serious steps are taken.
Referencing a Bible verse from Matthew 25 that he frequently quotes, Sen. Carper spoke of a moral obligation the nation has to the countries of Central America. Matthew 25 urges believers to treat strangers, especially “the least of these,” with kindness and generosity.
Failing to do so is akin to lighting a house on fire and locking the door with the family still inside, Sen. Carper said, using the analogy to criticize President Trump’s immigration policy, which mostly revolved around building a wall to keep the unwanted out.
The United States has a somewhat shaky record in Latin America, at times overthrowing democratically elected governments in favor of ones more friendly to its interests (banana republics), even though the changes often left most people in those nations worse off.
Failing to admit that Americans bear some blame for the crisis is both unfair and unproductive, Sen. Carper said.
But he doesn’t believe the solution is to continue accepting migrants without end. Rather, the United States should focus on making life in the Northern Triangle better.
“If all we do is, as a humane country, welcome those that are being brutalized in these other countries when they come here ... if that’s all we do and we don’t address the root causes of what’s causing them to leave their countries,” the problem will endure, he said.
While the Trump administration received harsh criticism from some quarters for its treatment of refugees and migrants, with some children being kept in what were essentially cages in overcrowded facilities, Sen. Carper described the current conditions as humane. Children are processed by Customs and Border Protection and turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services, which cares for them and works to locate family members already living in the United States, if applicable.
“I’ve always believed that the key element to enacting change is good leadership and I’m hopeful that with President Biden and Vice President (Kamala) Harris at the helm, we can put forward solutions to tackle the root causes and bring renewed prosperity to the region,” Sen. Carper said.
“We need to make sure the United States has a strong presence in Central America, and to do so we need to have experienced, Senate-confirmed ambassadors in Honduras and El Salvador. I look forward to working with the Biden-Harris administration and my colleague in Congress to ensure to we work together to bring hope and prosperity to our neighbors in Central America.”
He hopes to speak to President Biden about the issue soon.