May 17 2019
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) recently joined 32 other Senators in reintroducing legislation to tackle the root causes of the Central American migrant crisis. The Central American Reform and Enforcement Act will provide a coordinated regional response to effectively manage the humanitarian crises in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras that are forcing many women, children, and families to seek refuge in the U.S.
“After two and a half years of haphazard immigration decisions by the Trump Administration, it’s clear that we need smart legislation that prioritizes our national security in an effective way,” said the Senators. “This bill will finally reverse the Administration’s shortsighted decision to cut vital foreign assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras and help alleviate the violence and instability that continues to displace thousands of children and families, forcing them to flee to the U.S.”
El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are among the most dangerous countries in the world, particularly for women and children who face increasing and unrelenting violence at the hands of armed criminal gangs and drug traffickers who act with impunity. Since 2008, incidents of murder, violence, and corruption perpetrated by criminal networks have remained at alarming levels in these countries. The Trump Administration has further exacerbated this instability with policies that have cut funding to Central American governments and terminated protections for those who enter the U.S. after fleeing Honduras and El Salvador.
Specifically, the Central America Reform and Enforcement Act would:
- Provide conditional assistance to Northern Triangle governments to restore the rule of law, create a more secure environment for children and families, promote economic opportunities, strengthen democratic public institutions, and reduce corruption. Under this legislation, assistance funding would be dependent on the State Department certifying that the governments are implementing reforms and making progress on critical priorities.
- Crack down on smugglers, cartels, and traffickers exploiting children and families by creating new criminal penalties for human smuggling, schemes to defraud immigrants, and bulk cash smuggling. This bill would also expand on the work by the Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies to disrupt and prosecute trafficking and smuggling rings.
- Allow refugees to apply for asylum to the U.S. while in Central America as an alternative to undertaking a dangerous journey to the U.S. to apply. Ongoing and rampant regional violence suggests that women and children will continue to flee to other countries in search of protection. This legislation would help Mexico and other Central American countries strengthen their own asylum systems, expand refugee processing for third-country resettlement, and create a new refugee processing program to provide women and children an alternative to making the dangerous journey north.
- Enhance monitoring of unaccompanied children after they are processed at the border. Currently, the U.S. government lacks the resources to track unaccompanied children after they are processed by Border Patrol and placed with a sponsor – usually a close family member. This legislation would strengthen the ability of the Department of Health and Human Services to oversee the safety and wellbeing of children released to an adult sponsor while they await their court hearing. It would require consistent, uniform, and timely background checks, post-placement wellness checks, and post-release services. It would also provide resources and guidance to local school districts enrolling unaccompanied children.
- Ensure fair, orderly and efficient processing of those who do reach our border seeking protection. This legislation would provide a fair and legal process for children and families seeking asylum, improve immigration court efficiencies by requiring a significant increase in the number of immigration judges to ensure the prompt resolution of immigration claims, and establish reintegration programs in Central America that reduce the likelihood of re-migration for those who do not have legal grounds to stay in the United States.
The Central American Reform and Enforcement Act was introduced by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and cosponsored by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ed Markey (D-MA), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Tom Udall (D-NM), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
As Senators from Virginia – where the #1 country of origin for immigrants is El Salvador – Sens. Warner and Kaine have been vocal about the need to restore foreign assistance to Northern Triangle countries. In April, they urged the Trump Administration to reverse its plan to cut national security funding to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
For full text of this legislation, click here.