September 25, 2019

Chairman Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on U.S. Policy in Mexico and Guatemala: Ensuring Effective Policies to Address the Crisis at the Border

Washington, D.C. -- U.S. Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today convened a full committee hearing on "U.S. Policy in Mexico and Guatemala: Ensuring Effective Policies to Address the Crisis at the Border", with witness testimonies from the Honorable Kirsten D. Madison, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Narcotics and Law Enfrocements Affairs at the Department of State, and the Honorable Michael G. Kozak, acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the Department of State. 

Chairman Risch gave the following opening statement, as prepared for delivery:

"Today the committee meets to review measures taken by Congress and the Administration to reduce illegal migration flows from Central America. 

"There have been growing concerns about the changing nature of illegal immigration flows arriving at our southwest border as we all know.

"The uncontrolled arrival of an illegal entry of immigrants, including unaccompanied minors and/or adults traveling with children, exposes vulnerable populations, especially women and children, to unspeakable dangers.

"Only human traffickers and other unscrupulous criminals benefit from this unresolved situation. Transnational criminal organizations target and exploit immigrants along the journey north, which in turn, fuels the violence and insecurity from which they flee.

"Here in the U.S., they challenge our government’s ability to protect the homeland and test the capacity of local and national authorities to respond to citizens’ demands for safe and prosperous communities.

"Let me be clear, our nation has a strong and enduring national interest in a safe, prosperous, and democratic Central America.

"Congress has responded to the crisis by supporting foreign assistance programs that address the root causes of illegal migration in cooperation with the governments of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

"The need, however, far exceeds the financial ability of the U.S. or any government to solve this problem. U.S. security and judicial cooperation have however, helped Central American countries reduce homicide rates by nearly half, and increasingly taken on high-profile cases in the fight against public corruption.

"But much work remains to be done in reducing unacceptably high levels of violence, corruption, and economic insecurity – including through better enforcement of immigration laws.

"Certainly, there are many challenges on the road ahead, but we can also see them as opportunities to engage with our neighbors in a meaningful way.

"President Bukele in El Salvador has made important and positive commitments to improve the challenging situation he inherited from his FMLN predecessor. We ought to work with his administration to make sure these commitments become a reality in short order. We had the opportunity to meet with him personally, and he has personally made these commitments.

"The President-elect of Guatemala, Giammattei also provides a new opportunity for engagement. Guatemala has the largest economy in Central America, but faces significant challenges in improving living conditions for its people.

"Honduras has been a strong U.S. security and diplomatic partner, but many are concerned about the impact of ongoing political disputes and the unfinished fight against widespread corruption. Honduras must double down on efforts to improve domestic conditions in the short term.

"All three governments should work with the Administration on constructive solutions and enforceable commitments in these areas.

"Lastly, I would be remiss if I failed to note that this institution’s own inability to take practical steps to ease the ongoing immigration and humanitarian crisis.

"Despite multiple attempts, Congress continues to fail to modernize our immigration laws and close loopholes being exploited by violent gangs, human traffickers, and other transnational criminal organizations that prey on the most vulnerable, desperate, and innocent people in the region.

"With that, I welcome our guests here today. We’re looking forward to what you have to say. I’d like to turn to Senator Menendez for his opening remarks."

The witness testimonies are available on foreign.senate.gov, as is an archived recording of the full hearing. 

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