Since October more than 47,000 unaccompanied children mostly from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua have migrated to the United States looking to escape violence in their homeland. Most of the violence is being perpetrated by gangs and catalyzed by the trafficking of illegal drugs. With no end to the problem in sight, the flow of migrant children to the U.S. is projected to double within the next year.
The U.S. must recognize this is a humanitarian crisis impacting young and innocent children. These children have lost their childhood and everything they know, including their parents. As international leaders we have a responsibility to treat these children humanely and ensure that those who have arrived alone have a safe place to stay. However, we must also draw a line in the sand with Central America. We cannot let the governments of these countries continue allowing violence and poverty to spread and drive out children. Each country must take more responsibility to protect their youth.
A person migrating to the U.S. from Central America to escape violence is not a new phenomenon. I immigrated to this country from Guatemala when I was just a little girl. Violence in Central America was a problem back then too. Just like many of these children, to shield me from this violence my parents sent me to the U.S. to live with my uncle. Today, the problem has only worsened because Central American governments have not provided leadership or held themselves accountable. Their lack of responsiveness to tackle this problem should be subjected to tough questioning by our Congress.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported in 2012 that cocaine trafficking has undeniably catalyzed violence in these countries. The security problem is rooted in weak governance and powerful sub-state actors. Addressing the violence has been a problem for these governments partly because reducing contraband flows requires tools they do not possess and programs to build capacity among local law enforcement cannot bring about the rapid results required due to widespread corruption.
The lack of leadership to stop the violence in these countries has weakened their ability to combat the problem.
Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenObama congratulates Perez as new Democratic leader GOP: Dems elected 'D.C. insider' as new chairman Perez appoints Ellison deputy DNC chair MORE recently visited Guatemala to deliver a message that these children will not be immune from deportation. The White House said the United States would launch a $40 million program to improve security in Guatemala to reduce pressures fueling migration and a $25 million program to provide services to youth in El Salvador who are vulnerable to organized crime pressure.
The United States should be an ally in combating violence in Central America but we cannot solve the problem for them. Congress should be working with the President to incorporate accountability measures into any foreign aid package disbursed to Central America. These measures should ensure that the aid is contingent upon Central American government officials making real reforms within their countries. That is the least they can do for the young and innocent victims that have been suffering from the consequences of their inaction.
Torres, a Democrat, is a California State senator, serving since 2008. She is the highest ranking American elected official of Guatemalan heritage.