By Kristina Wong - 07/17/14 03:21 PM EDT
The Obama administration must do more to address drug-related violence in Central America, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said Thursday, calling the problem the “root cause” behind the recent influx of child immigrants into the U.S.
Nelson, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the administration must better use the U.S. military’s capabilities in Latin America to stem the drug trade, blaming the violence for sending thousands of young people streaming across the U.S. border.
His remarks came after the administration briefed lawmakers late Wednesday on the border crisis in a closed-door session.
Nelson said the military's Southern Command, responsible for air and maritime detection and interdiction of drug and other illicit traffic in the region, could help prevent big shipments originating from Colombia and Ecuador that were coming into Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
"The drug lords have completely taken over those countries. As a result, the violence is the highest. Honduras is the murder capital now of the world," Nelson said.
"If the administration would listen to their four-star general, the head of United States Southern Command, Gen. [John] Kelly ... then we could get to the root cause of the problem and stop these future humanitarian crises," he added.
The administration is struggling to deal with the surge of young immigrants from Central American countries this year.
Military officials have said there is a link between the drug violence in the region and the spike in children illegally crossing the border but say they lack the resources to deal with the problem.
Southcom's chief, Kelly, testified to lawmakers in March that his command could only track a quarter of the drug trafficking.
Army Col. Greg Julian, Southcom’s spokesman, told The Hill last week that the military’s capabilities had been reduced even further because of sequestration cuts.