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Central American leaders offer plan to slow child migrant surge

GUATEMALA CITY – The presidents of three Central American nations that were the source of a wave of child migrants to the United States this year are going to Washington with a plan to boost economic growth and reduce violence in their countries.

Presidents Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala, Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras and Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador will meet with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and attend an Inter-American Development Bank conference Friday where they seek to attract foreign investment, said El Salvador’s foreign minister, Hugo Martínez.

“Our fundamental bet is to generate opportunities for economic development so that immigration is an option and not an obligation,” Martínez told reporters in San Salvador on Wednesday. “We are calling for the private sector to focus their investment in places where migrants originate from.”

The arrival of about 68,000 unaccompanied minors at the U.S. southern border in the year through September, a 77 percent increase from the previous year, fueled debate over immigration policy and prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to seek $3.7 billion in emergency aid.

While the number of arrivals, most of whom were from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, began declining in July, those numbers could rebound in 2015 because conditions in the countries haven’t improved, said Carl Meacham, director of the Americas program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D. C.

Obama will announce a “broad overhaul” of immigration enforcement as soon as next week, The New York Times reported Thursday, citing administration officials. He told the three Central American leaders in July that he is committed to enhancing security and economic development in the region’s so-called “Northern Triangle” to discourage families from sending their children to the U.S.

That same month, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson urged Central American nations to dismantle smuggling networks that move migrants north and said immigrants detained at the U.S. border will be deported.

After meeting with Obama in July, Pérez Molina said that $2 billion of investment was needed over five to 10 years to stem the surge. The presidents haven’t said how much their “Alliance for Prosperity” plan would cost.

© 2014, Bloomberg News

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