U.S. Vice President Joe Biden travels to Guatemala on Friday to discuss the growing numbers of unaccompanied minors from Central America and Mexico illegally trying to cross the U.S. border.
U.S. officials have called the tidal wave of children arriving to the United States alone after making the treacherous journey a “humanitarian crisis” and have pledged special assistance — but not to let them stay.
Biden will meet with the presidents of Guatemala and El Salvador, as well as a senior representative from Honduras’ government and Mexico’s interior secretary to “develop concrete proposals to address the root causes of unlawful migration from Central America,” the White House said.
U.S. President Barack Obama also spoke with his Mexican counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto on the eve of the talks to discuss a “regional strategy” tackling the migrants, the release said.
During the call, Obama noted that the United States and Mexico can help by “working together to return the children safely to their families and to build Central American capacity to receive returned individuals,” the White House said.
Obama also urged Mexico to “help target the criminals that lure families to send children on the dangerous journey and to alert potential migrants to the perils of the journey and the likelihood that they will be returned to Central America,” it said.
A White House official said Biden will emphasize that illegal immigration — and putting children in the hands of traffickers — is not safe, and U.S. immigration code does not allow children to cross the border without papers.
Between October 2013 and the end of May 2014, U.S. border officials intercepted more than 47,000 unaccompanied minors trying to illegally enter the United States, almost twice the number registered between October 2012 and the end of September 2013.
Guatemala says around 1,550 of its emigrant children are currently in shelters in Texas and Arizona.
Honduras said Wednesday it was preparing to receive around 13 undocumented migrant children detained in the United States and Mexico.
Guatemalan Foreign Minister Fernando Carrera expressed alarm at the “explosion” in child migration during the last nine months.
He attributed the increase to children looking to be reunited with their families living in the United States.
But the nonprofit Washington Office on Latin America said increasing violence and pressure to join criminal gangs is also feeding the drive to flee for a better life.
Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina said he will also raise the issue of “temporary protected status” — an immigration benefit given to migrants from countries where it is temporarily unsafe to return — asking for it to be accorded to Guatemalans who arrived in the United States before 2011.
Currently, Honduras and El Salvador, but not Guatemala, are among the countries whose migrants are able to apply for “temporary protected status.”
Guatemala is the last stop on Biden’s four-country tour of Latin America.