Members of the Central American Parliament called for comprehensive U.S. immigration reform and the creation of more opportunities in their countries as a way to help stem the flow of unaccompanied minors and families traveling to the United States, during a visit to Southern Arizona this week.
“We believe in comprehensive immigration reform that has a vision of not only the free flow of goods, but also people, because the majority of Latin American immigrants come to contribute and enrich this country,” said Jorge Aguilar, a representative from Honduras.
But the legislators also said that in order to solve the problem, their governments must do more so people can stay.
Central American countries have gone through diverse and complex situations from civil wars and armed conflicts to hurricanes and earthquakes, said Giovanni Jacobs, from Guatemala. Those factors contribute to people’s decision to leave for the United States, he said.
Representing Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — three of the six countries that make the political institution — the legislators on Tuesday and Wednesday visited the Border Patrol in Nogales, a new shelter for unaccompanied minors in Tucson and the immigration detention center in Florence. They were here to learn firsthand about the plight of Central Americans, especially minors, crossing the border illegally and surrendering to immigration officials.
“Seeing the wall for the first time was striking,” said Aguilar, the Honduran representative. “It took me back to the first time I was at the Israeli-Palestine border. I hated that as human beings we had to put up barriers after the Berlin Wall era.”
But it worried him that the Border Patrol said that the border is now controlled by smugglers and that migrants can cross only with the smugglers’ permission and under extortion, making it more dangerous and costly.
“In some ways that justifies the wall,” he said, “but we wish that one day there won’t be a need for that physical barrier.”
So far this fiscal year, nearly 63,000 unaccompanied minors and about the same number of single parents crossing with their children have been apprehended. Most of them are from Central America’s Northern Triangle, particularly from Honduras.
In the last five years, the number of unaccompanied youths from Honduras apprehended at the border has jumped from 968 in fiscal year 2009 to 17,582 so far this fiscal year. Nationalities have not been provided for families caught.
The numbers make sense, Aguilar said, because of the lack of opportunities for young people, coupled with a high level of violence and insecurity caused by drug trafficking and gangs.
As they head back to their countries, they will draft resolutions so each country’s government can draft and strengthen existing laws to address the problem, including those pertaining to the prosecution of smugglers, they said.
Aguilar said he will also push for the reopening of a Honduras consulate in Phoenix. A previous consulate closed last year.