Central America: leaders hold migration summit

US president Barack Obama hosted a meeting in Washington DC on July 25 with three Central American presidents—Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador, Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala and Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras—to discuss the recent increase in unauthorized immigration to the US by unaccompanied minors. About 57,000 unaccompanied minors, mostly from those three Central American countries, were detained at the Mexico-US border from October 2013 through June 2014. President Obama called for joint work to discourage further child migration; the US would do its part by making it clear that the minors would be repatriated unless they could convince US officials they were in danger if they returned, Obama said. The left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada headlined its coverage with the sentence: "The US has great compassion for child migrants; they'll be deported: Obama."

The Obama administration had been floating a proposal for setting up an office in Honduras, and possibly in El Salvador and Guatemala, to process youths and families seeking refugee status. But Obama played the idea down after the summit. "There may be some narrow circumstances in which there is humanitarian or refugee status that a family might be eligible for," he said. "But I think it's important to recognize that that would not necessarily accommodate a large number of additional migrants." (La Jornada, July 26, from correspondent; Associated Press, July 26, via CBS Washington, DC)

The Central American presidents all emphasized the importance of crime and poverty as forces motivating migration, but right-wing presidents Pérez and Hernández seemed mostly interested in getting more US military aid. The US-funded "drug war" programs in Colombia and Mexico, Plan Colombia and the Mérida Initiative, "were successful for the US and those two countries in the struggle against narco trafficking, but they gave us a tremendous problem," Hernández said the day before the summit, referring to the relocation of some drug smuggling activities into Central America. "So we need to have our own plan." (LJ, July 25)

While media coverage stressed pressure on Obama from anti-immigrant conservatives, human rights groups and religious organizations were pressing him from the left. More than 40 organizations signed on to an open letter started by the DC-based Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) calling for the US to provide children and families with "all due [legal] protections." "[M]ore border security will not help," according to the open letter, which was released on July 24; the US must "face the root causes of violence at the community level." Adam Isacson, WOLA's senior associate for regional security policy, dismissed the calls for more military assistance to Central America. "What we'd like to see is a package of assistance to Central America that is focused entirely on the civilian side of what it takes to protect," Isacson told the Inter Press Service (IPS): "getting police to respect people," "a much stronger justice system," and "more emphasis on creating opportunities…combined with Central American presidents' commitment to raise more taxes from their wealthiest."

Also on July 24, two organizations, the New York-based Women's Refugee Commission (WRC) and the DC-based Detention Watch Network, released a statement deploring conditions at the Artesia Family Detention Facility in New Mexico. After interviewing immigrant families at the detention center, 22 organizations concluded that "[t]he Administration's intent to deport everyone as quickly as possible for optics is sacrificing critical due process procedures and sending families—mothers, babies, and children—back despite clear concerns for their safety in violation of US and international law." (IPS, July 25, via Upside Down World)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 27.