The United States and Panama have signed a Bilateral Arrangement on Migration and Protection detailing their collaborative commitments to improve migration management, expand stabilization efforts, and increase access to legal pathways and protection for those in the region. Panama’s Minister of Security Juan Pino joined Embassy Panama City’s Chargé d’Affaires Stewart Tuttle in signing the Arrangement in Panama City on April 19.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement that the new Arrangement on Migration and Protection “adds to the expanding regional migration management framework that the United States is developing with counterparts across the Americas.”
“It also embodies the principles of that regional approach through humane border management, stabilization of displaced populations and host communities, and improved access to protection and legal pathways to provide an alternative to irregular migration,” Price added.
“Following the October 2021 Regional Migration Ministerial in Colombia, with this Arrangement both countries confirm their commitment to those principles for collaborative regional response to historic migration and refugee flows. We look forward to working with Panama to advance the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection ahead of the Summit of the Americas, which the United States will host in June 2022,” he said, adding that “the United States welcomes Panama’s leadership in building a more secure, prosperous, and democratic hemisphere.”
Below are Blinken’s engagements in Panama
Secretary Antony J. Blinken
With Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo Cohen
and Panamanian Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes
At the Ministerial Conference on Migration and Protection Session on Stabilization of
Communities and Post-COVID Recovery
April 20, 2022
Westin Playa Bonita Panama
Panama City, Panama
PRESIDENT COHEN: (Via interpreter) (In progress) irregular migration. We have been creating tourism and increasing (inaudible) irregular migration going through the borders (inaudible). Given these conditions, we have – there are victims of criminal organizations. They’re exposed to multiple risks that attempt against human rights.
Facing this reality, we cannot be indifferent. Our countries also work in a coordinated manner to find solutions in the short, medium, and long range. We have an international humanitarian approach with shared responsibility among the countries of origin, transit, and final destination of these irregular migrants. That is why we have to strengthen the policies of the region to be able to drive the economic growth in our countries to generate human growth opportunities and to create better living conditions for our peoples.
It is fundamental, achieving joint agreements and articulated agreements to tackle this migration phenomenon (inaudible) humanitarian organizations. It is opportune to highlight what I mentioned already in the General Assembly of the United Nations back in September. Irregular migration is possibly the (inaudible). It demands a joint effort of coordinated strategies and enough resources to anticipate the humanitarian crisis in the region of great preparations.
Ladies and gentlemen, Panama is a (inaudible) standing in the flood of this irregular migration. We have created a lot of efforts to tackle proactively and positively and with a humanitarian approach. And we have coordinated (inaudible) states acting immediately and facing this challenge with (inaudible) because we understand that we cannot just stay talking, facing a problem like this.
Today I reaffirm Panama’s commitment to work jointly with friendly countries as strategic partners in the search of joint solutions with cross-sectional policies and concrete actions that will promote regular migrations, orderly and safe, respecting human rights. I do appreciate all of you here present for your participation, your will, and determination to work in a regional integration to tackle the irregular migration phenomenon within the context of international migration. Thank you so much.
MR VASQUEZ: (Via interpreter) Ladies and gentlemen, having heard the opening remarks of His Excellency the President of Panama, Mr. Laurentino Cortizo Cohen, we open the floor to Erika Mouynes, Foreign Relations Minister, who will open the ministerial regional meeting on migration.
FOREIGN MINISTER MOUYNES: (Via interpreter) Good morning, everyone. I would like to thank one more time your attendance, for just by being here is a clear support to the initiative to tackle the impact on irregular migration in a continental manner. We all care, we have made this a priority, and we need to work together. Migration is a current phenomenon and it is a complex one. It is a world phenomenon. And this phenomenon in particular responds to particular joint circumstances that magnify the COVID pandemic, climate change, war, conflict, and economic issues. By working together with our neighboring countries and the United States, we are trying to approach this phenomenon in a responsible, effective, and humanitarian-focused way for which we have advocated since the very beginning, like our president said.
Figures are clear. In August of 2021, influx through the Darién border came to a peak of 2,800 migrants in a day. Today, it doesn’t go over 100 daily. So we have motives to be optimistic, but we cannot falter because, one more time, the figures are still increasing. Reality is harsh, and these events of – which are unexpected create migration waves and compels us to be prepared not only to be able to offer assistance but also not to have a negative impact. There will be always cataclysms, new conflicts, but we can create effective and long-lasting control with a regional and continental strategy, but it has to be a permanent role.
Today we are providing continuity to something that we already began. So today before we begin we should have three set objectives: one, coming to agreement in a working framework that will facilitate the standardization of migration policies in the region; number two, broaden the efforts of collaboration to fight trans-country organized crime; and number three, to concrete the cooperation dynamics among states, international organizations, and development banking in the region to have the structural basis to stop the structural basis that prompt migration.
Friends, your presence here is important, and it conveys the will to work together, sharing this responsibility to approach this challenge that is going to define the 21st century. It will be collaboration, commitment, and consensus that always works. Today we have an opportunity to speak with one voice, being certain that our meeting will mark a milestone in the history of our continent. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good morning, everyone, and Erika, thank you so much for bringing us all together. We are all living what is truly a historic challenge, and that is the fact that more people on our planet are on the move, forcibly displaced from their homes, than at any time since the Second World War. That is the magnitude of the challenge, and we feel it strongly in our own hemisphere. We’re focusing on different aspects of the problem today.
This morning in this first session, I know we want to focus on one particularly urgent aspect of the challenge: How can we more effectively work together to help stabilize and strengthen communities across the region that are generously hosting large numbers of migrants and refugees? The millions of people who have made the difficult and often dangerous decision to leave their homes we know do so for a variety of reasons – poverty, a lack of economic opportunity, repressive governance, corruption, political upheaval, conflict and insecurity. All of these challenges already there are exacerbated by COVID-19 and by the climate crisis.
Ultimately, we all know this: the only lasting, sustainable response to irregular migration is to tackle its root causes. But that takes time. And in the meantime, many cities and towns simply don’t have the resources they need to provide for their own citizens, much less meeting the needs of migrants who are with them.
As Erika said, we know that no country, no community can solve a challenge as complicated as irregular migration alone. We have to work together to support the front-line communities hosting migrants and refugees with increased resources for public health and safety, for stronger social services, for more resilient infrastructure, for opportunity for all – for migrants and host communities alike.
We’re making some progress. Just to cite a few examples. Colombia has registered more than 1.9 million Venezuelans for temporary protected status, and more than 600,000 have officially received that status. That gives them documentation and legal protections that are critical for integrating into their local community.
It also means that more migrants can be vaccinated against COVID-19, which is critical to ending the pandemic and boosting economic recovery.
In that same spirit, the United States is expediting family-based petitions at our embassies throughout Central America so that migrants with family members in the United States are able to go there sponsored by the family members, and they can move much more quickly through the process as a result.
We’re also expanding visas for eligible groups – for example, 20,000 additional H2B temporary agricultural worker visas that Secretary Mayorkas recently announced. And a critical piece of this is the role that multilateral finance and development institutions have been doing to provide more resources to front-line communities. We have to work together to bring these efforts to scale throughout the hemisphere.
Again, with some examples. The Inter-American Development Bank is boosting public health education and social protection in migrant host cities in Ecuador. In Belize, the bank is running programs to increase educational opportunity for girls both from migrant families and from local communities. And again, this is such a critical piece. The support that we need to give to migrants we have to find ways also to make sure that local communities are getting support, getting help – are benefitting. Otherwise, we know that none of this will be sustainable – politically, economically, socially.
In five Colombian cities, the bank is facilitating housing and helping local governments build institutional capacity to assist migrants, both of which are critical for them to integrate more seamlessly into our communities. The World Bank’s Global Concessional Financing Facility has been instrumental in providing development assistance to countries worldwide that are affected by the refugee crisis, including economic and social support to Colombian communities hosting Venezuelan refugees.
So programs like these help point the way forward. We need that kind of cross-cutting coordination – local and national governments, multilateral institutions, businesses, civil society – all working toward safe, orderly, and humane migration throughout the region and supporting the communities so that they can do right by these vulnerable populations.
Of course, even as we’re doing this, as I said at the outset, we have to remain resolutely focused on addressing root causes, in particular some of the economic drivers of migration, and there, again, we’re making some progress. To name just one example, Vice President Harris’ call to action to the private sector just several months ago has rallied $1.2 billion in investments to support long-term social and economic progress in northern Central America.
Finally, many of us will meet again in Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas in just a few weeks’ time in June. There, we’ll have an opportunity to address the deeper issues driving irregular migration like improving public health, strengthening our democracies. By adopting a Los Angeles declaration on migration and protection that sets forth our shared principles for a collaborative, coordinated response to migration and forced displacement as President Biden has proposed, our countries can take our partnership on this issue to the next level of effectiveness, and we can make a profound difference in the lives of our most vulnerable fellow citizens and in the future of our shared region.
So I hope we can use our time together as well today to lay the groundwork for a strong declaration by our leaders when they gather in California in June. But to each and every one of you, we’ve been working together over many months now at the United Nations, Colombia, here in Panama. Thank you. Thank you for your commitment. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your partnership as we work together to promote safe, orderly, and humane migration across the Americas. (Applause.)
Secretary Antony J. Blinken
And Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Panamanian Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes, and Panamanian Public Security Minister Juan Manuel Pino Forero
At a Joint Press Availability
April 20, 2022
Westin Playa Bonita Panama
Panama City, Panama
MR VASQUEZ: (Via interpreter) A very good morning to you all, and welcome to the press conference called by Erika Mouynes, Minister of Foreign Affairs, after the ministerial on migration where the national government talks about joint actions to deal with the growing phenomenon of irregular migration at the highest level. It is my honor to leave you with Minister Erika Mouynes, Minister of Foreign Affairs.
FOREIGN MINISTER MOUYNES: (Via interpreter) Good morning, everyone. Thank you very much for your interest. Before getting to the questions, I would like to establish what I think is a vital agreement or vital achievement of the ministerial meeting held in Panama, the great welcome at which this has been received at the highest level – ministers of foreign affairs, defense, development banks, international organizations – 31 delegations were here. Their very presence is a show of support, and the involvement of the United States, the declared destination of most migrants who cross through our country, has been fundamental.
Over a year ago, when we made a call to attention about the unprecedented increase regarding migrants crossing our borders, we were facing a regional migration crisis. The cooperation between countries of origin, of transit, and destination countries for transcontinental migration was shown to be an efficient alternative to combat this unstoppable phenomenon, but we cannot relax. Reality is what it is, and we need a regional strategy that is ongoing when facing these issues. We must continue with the work that we have started.
MR VASQUEZ: (Via interpreter) We will now hear from His Excellency Secretary Blinken, Secretary of State from the United States of America.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be in Panama, the bridge of the world and the heart of the universe, with ForeignMinister Mouynes, Minister of Security Pino, and my friend and colleague Secretary Mayorkas. I also want to start by thanking our outstanding embassy team here in Panama City, including our chargé d’affaires, Stewart Tuttle, for their great work in sustaining and strengthening our friendship with Panama. So we have just concluded a set of ministerial meetings to discuss a challenge that affects all 22 countries represented here: managing migration in our hemisphere. Precisely because it affects all of us, this is a challenge that we have to solve together, and that was at the heart of our discussions today.
Here in Panama we talked about some of the most urgent aspects of this issue, including helping stabilize and strengthen communities that are hosting migrants and refugees; creating more legal pathways to reinforce safe, orderly, and humane migration; dealing with the root causes of irregular migration by growing economic opportunity, fighting corruption, increasing citizen security, combating the climate crisis, improving democratic governance that’s responsive to people’s needs.
Yesterday Panama and the United States signed an arrangement to increase our bilateral cooperation across all of these issues. This is the second one we’ve made. The first was with Costa Rica. We hope to announce more in the coming weeks and months. This is how we deepen our coordination and this is how we make more progress in helping vulnerable people, support communities, and protect the security of our borders. Our work together is going to continue at the Summit of the Americas in June, where we hope that leaders from across the region will be able to lay out shared principles for a shared response to regional migration and forced displacement.
I also want to mention the international organizations that joined us here in Panama. They are critical partners in everything that we’re working to do – the International Organization for Migration, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF, the World Bank – and also equally important partners, multilateral development banks, they joined us here as well, including the Andean Development Corporation, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. This is the kind of cross-cutting coordination that the challenges of irregular migration demand. We’re grateful for everyone’s participation and everyone’s contributions.
I want to thank the Government of Panama for being a leader, a partner on this issue, and for bringing all of us together for two days of what were productive talks, productive planning, and action. As President Cortizo and I discussed yesterday, the partnership between Panama and the United States is one of the strongest that we have in the Americas. Our countries work together every single day on the issues that matter most to our people. Our economic relationship is strong, with more than $13 billion in bilateral trade between us that’s supporting thousands of jobs in both our countries, and 72 percent of all goods that travel through the Panama Canal are either going to or coming from the United States.
We’re proud to be the largest humanitarian donor to international organizations in Panama, and their work complements Panama’s own assistance to migrants and refugees. We’re working closely on counterterrorism and counternarcotics through our security cooperation and combating organized crime and money laundering through law enforcement cooperation.
We’re also fighting COVID-19 together. More than 70 percent of Panama’s population is fully vaccinated, a remarkable achievement that that the United States was proud to support with a donation of more than 500,000 Pfizer vaccine doses.
We applaud Panama’s leadership on climate, including the work that you’ve done on reforestation and decreasing energy emissions.
And our countries stand together to support shared values here at home and around the world. We value Panama’s strong voice in the region on democracy. We stand with Panama’s voice to strengthen its own democratic governance, fighting corruption. And we appreciate how Panama stood firmly against Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine and affirmed the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity that lie at the heart of the United Nations Charter.
Yesterday, Secretary Mayorkas and I visited the Panama Canal, something that I’ve – like so many millions of people – read about, studied. But when you see it, as I did for the first time, it really gives you a – gives you pause at the extraordinary feat of human engineering, human ingenuity, but also the powerful symbol of the historical partnership between our countries, a reminder that Panama is at the center of so much global economic activity and connection – a gateway between the continents and oceans, a leader in the region and beyond, a true friend and partner to the United States. And for that, we’re very thankful. Thank you.
MR VASQUEZ: (Via interpreter) His Excellency Pino, Minister of Public Safety.
SECURITY MINISTER PINO: (Via interpreter) Good morning, everyone. First of all, I would like to thank you for this time that we have spent together while working out in the field and working bilateral meetings and in multilateral meetings as well. We have tackled this issue from many angles. I thank Secretary Mayorkas for going with us to (inaudible), which is (inaudible) as has been said, because it is a way of understanding what happens to migrants as they travel through Panama.
First of all, Panama, in order to strengthen the willingness to work on this issue of global concern, migration, signed a letter of intent where it reaffirms its willingness to continue to deal with this issue on the – at the bilateral level with the United States, where we’d have an historic relationship in the area of security, which must be supported increasingly every day because these issues must be dealt with in a timely manner quickly, because these are issues that affect the future. Migration is here due to changes that are happening at the global level, so I appreciate this visit. And Panama here reaffirms its willingness to continue to work on this via the signing of the letter of intent.
Finally, I led issue number two, the working group for security, with ministers and vice ministers of security as well as delegations of (inaudible) countries who are with us here. It is clearly reflected – we saw the good intentions – and for the first time, I was able to see how at the multilateral level we tackle this scourge. We saw examples of how different countries deal with the issue. And now we must bring our efforts together and act quickly because migratory flows will continue and will increase.
We saw the need to promote stabilization, control measures, awareness campaigns, and preventing irregular migration. And the risks that are linked to this phenomenon – transit routes must be safer. We must harmonize migratory policies. We must preserve the environment. We need to look at new schemes and more work-related migration schemes – traceability – we need technology and tools; we need to exchange information in a timely fashion. And we must improve our cooperation in order to improve security in the region.
During my time as minister of security and during my career in security agencies, I’ve never seen a meeting that was as aligned around one single issue – a common issue – where countries have come to an agreement. We have set forth a route, but this route and the destination – we must travel this route quickly. And I can say and affirm that there is a great deal of willingness on behalf of the countries who participated, and I appreciate that. I appreciate that call that was made through the Panamanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, because this is a golden opportunity, and we must continue to build on this issue for a better future for our countries. Thank you all very much.
MR VASQUEZ: (Via interpreter) Words now from Secretary of DHS Alejandro Mayorkas from the U.S.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Good morning. Our gratitude to President Cortizo, Ministers Mouynes and Pino for convening, hosting, and welcoming us here in beautiful Panama. By bringing us together from across this region, we are demonstrating the commitment shared by each one of us and our nations to resolve, to address our joint hemispheric challenge of irregular migration, its impacts, its complexities, and the factors causing it.
These issues have tested our governments and our citizens in the United States, Panama, and throughout the Americas. And this task has been made more difficult and more urgent in the face of an ongoing pandemic, natural disasters worsened by climate change, threats to public safety and economic security, and much more.
None of these matters exists in isolation. Each requires creative and unified solutions. All of them demand our cooperation and our partnership. The presence of leaders from so many countries at this ministerial demonstrates the urgency of this issue for our entire hemisphere and reinforces our shared determination to engage in this kind of collaboration.
For the Department of Homeland Security that I am proud to represent, our immediate goals are crystal-clear: think regionally about stemming migration flows through enhanced prevention and enforcement; create viable legal pathways in the spirit of regional responsibility-sharing; address root causes by investing in the stabilization of communities that need it most; foster and grow legitimate trade and travel between our countries that will help our communities prosper; and attack the shared dangers of transnational crime.
To meet these objectives throughout this week’s meetings, ongoing consultations, and building on bilateral and regional arrangements and agreements, we will do what we can to strengthen access to stronger protections and legal pathways for refugees and vulnerable migrants. We will focus on ways to help prevent these individuals and families from experiencing the desperation that drives people to embark on these dangerous journeys in the first place.
We will seize the opportunity presented by this ministerial to identify the support and resources that will help stabilize communities affected by migration and strengthen humane border management across the region. We will build on the growing momentum in our hemisphere and toward a regional responsibility-sharing and a recognition that each country must do its part to address irregular migration in our region, which involves so much human suffering. This is one step in a larger effort.
One of our next opportunities, as my friend and colleague Secretary Blinken stated, will come at the Summit of the Americas in my hometown of Los Angeles, California, where we will focus on the theme of building a resilient, sustainable, and equitable future in our hemisphere. But before then, now, we will act. We will tackle the shared challenges, seize the opportunities, and begin to realize our shared goals and underlying values.
Thank you once again for your welcome and partnership.
MR VASQUEZ: (Via interpreter) Thank you. Now (inaudible) we will open our Q&A session for different media outlets. First, we will (inaudible) Isaías Cedeño from TVN.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Hello, good morning. I would like to know specifically what the promises are that will be undertaken by the U.S. (inaudible) in order to talk on migration as countries of origin where this problem originates (inaudible). We haven’t had – Venezuela, Cuba, and Haiti, for example, have not been present at this meeting.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So our plans have a number of different components to them. One critical first step is reflected in the ministerial that we have convened today that has brought together so many different nations. And that is to address the root causes of why individuals flee their homes, leave their countries of origin for lands that are unfamiliar to them – the process of stabilization.
Secondly, to build legal, orderly, and humane pathways so individuals do not need to place their lives, their well-beings, the well-beings of their loved ones, in the hands of smugglers and traffickers who only seek to exploit them for profit.
Third is to develop humanitarian programs for individuals already resident in the countries other than those of their origin so that we can settle them in a stable and prosperous manner, address their needs, present them with the opportunities of a stable life in their new homes.
Lastly, of course, in the United States, we have significant humanitarian programs, the asylum program. But we also take pride in being not only a nation of immigrants but a nation of laws. Those who qualify for relief under our nation’s laws will be provided a home in the United States and an ability to resettle in the States. Those who do not qualify will be repatriated to their countries of origin, and so to give integrity to our system and to stand as a nation of laws as well as a nation of relief.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And I really have very little to add because Secretary Mayorkas covered it so well. I would only emphasize one point because it’s really what brought us together here today, and that is this sense of shared responsibility. What is very powerful in the meeting today, in work that was done in the lead-up to this meeting including by Panama and Foreign Minister Mouynes, is building on that shared – sense of shared responsibility.
We know that virtually every aspect of this problem demands coordination, cooperation, consultation, and not only among governments but among international organizations, international financial institutions, civil society, and so on. That’s very much the spirit of what took place today. It’s the spirit that will animate the Summit of the Americas and its own focus on migration.
And it is, I think, the difference-maker because to underscore Secretary Mayorkas’s points, we have two challenges. One is dealing with this effectively in a sustainable way, and that involves going at the root causes. What is it that is driving people to make the decision to leave their homes, to leave their families, to leave their countries, to leave everything they know to make an incredibly hazardous journey with all the dangers that go along with that? What is it that drives them to do that? How do we address those challenges so that people feel the confidence that their future can be in the country that they come from?
But we know that that takes time. It takes sustained effort. It’s not like flipping a light switch. But in the meantime, we have to be able to address the problem as it presents to us right now, and that goes with some of the practical cooperation that we’re taking, including through the work that we did today, including through the bilateral work that we’ve done with Panama on a new arrangement that we have for enhancing our coordination and cooperation on dealing with migration.
So we have to be able to deal with the short-term challenge even as we address the long-term drivers, which is the only sustainable way to get at this. And all of that comes together in enhanced coordination, cooperation, shared responsibility.
MR PRICE: Our first question goes to Alfonso Fernandez Sanchez of EFE.
QUESTION: Hello, Secretary Blinken. The U.S. Government has underscored the need to tackle the root causes of migration in the Northern Triangle. Do you think these countries are making enough efforts? And particularly, are you worried about the decisions against freedom of speech and press in El Salvador by President Bukele? Do you think he’s going down the authoritarian slope?
(Via interpreter) (Inaudible) and do you think that the U.S. is complying with all that they are supposed to comply with these migratory things?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Right. First, what we are experiencing in our own hemisphere is multifaceted, and of course, there are challenges that are clear in the so-called Northern Triangle countries, in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, but also Nicaragua, Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba, and then people now coming into our hemisphere from beyond who are also on a migratory path, including coming to the United States. So we’re looking at this comprehensively and looking at what we can do together to meet the challenge, wherever it comes from.
With regard to the Northern Triangle countries, we’re working with each of them in different ways to address both short-term challenges but also these long-term drivers. I would note that Vice President Harris, among other things, led a very significant call to action from the private sector to make new investments in the Northern Triangle countries. And since that call to action, I think we’ve seen something like $1.2 billion in additional investment that, over time, as it takes root, will create new opportunities for people and help take away some of what’s driving them to leave, which is the lack of economic opportunity. But it has to be comprehensive. Economic opportunity, governance, combating corruption, dealing with insecurity – all of these things are vital.
But I think it’s also fair to say that none of the countries in question, of course, can do this alone. The demands are extraordinary, so this is where all of us come into play, but it’s also where the international financial institutions, as well as international organizations, come into play. And bringing all of that together with the goodwill and intentions of the governments in question, I think we can make a real difference.
When it comes to El Salvador more exclusively, look, we have a strong partnership with the people of El Salvador. El Salvador has experienced setbacks in democratic governance, in the separation of powers, the rule of law. And we look to President Bukele to make progress in addressing some of those setbacks.
We also urge El Salvador to implement the state of emergency in a manner that is consistent with human rights. We can tackle violence and crime while also protecting civil rights and fundamental freedoms. These two things are not in opposition to each other. I would note, for our part, that the United States has provided tens of millions of dollars recently in funding to deal with the problem posed by gangs. We continue to cooperate and coordinate closely, including also with a number of pending extradition requests of gang leaders, to help address the problems posed by criminality and gangs.
FOREIGN MINISTER MOUYNES: (Via interpreter) Regarding the participation of the U.S., I believe first of all I would say that their participation, as I said before, because the U.S. is the destination of most of the migrants, their participation here is fundamental, but also not only from the work that we have been doing – I started working and talking about this about a year ago when I called an alarm because of the increase of migrants that we were seeing, and the ally that has helped us all the way has been the U.S. And what we are doing now is to show the result of that working together with all the countries in the region, but the U.S. is a leader in this.
I think that the fact that we are here together, we have security, foreign policy on both sides of the country, because these are the priorities. For us, migration and – are issues for us and for the U.S., and it’s also a priority for the security issue for Panama and for the U.S.
MR VASQUEZ: (Via interpreter) Adames from SerTV.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Good afternoon. We are here live, and this is for the foreign minister. This is the third meeting held in this country to deal with irregular migration. However, how does financing work together with multilateral support in the area of migration? And what is the agreement that will be arrived at as a result of this meeting?
FOREIGN MINISTER MOUYNES: (Via interpreter) (In progress) meeting, because when you were talking specifically about the root causes and how to settle populations, infrastructure – infrastructure creates prosperity. It’s – it creates development, and that is what we need to strive for. And in order to do that, we need to get them involved, to get their commitment so they hear reality, so they hear what is going on in each country to have specific proposals drafted, to involve the private sector.
So they need to be a part of this exercise. We have three of the most important banks represented here, as well as international organizations. This is the way to work together and to create regional projects little by little to create the development that we need.
MR PRICE: Priscilla Alvarez of CNN.
QUESTION: Secretary Mayorkas, in light of the increase of Cubans at the U.S.-Mexico border, what does the U.S. hope to accomplish in migration talks with Cuba this week? And is there consideration within the administration to delay the end of Title 42?
And for Secretary Blinken, on Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine say a humanitarian corridor has been established for Ukrainians who are women, children, and elderly to leave Mariupol. Does the U.S. urge Ukrainians to depart the city that way? Is there reason to believe it is a safe exit and is the U.S. helping in those efforts? Thank you.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Thank you very much. I don’t want to get ahead of the dialogue between the United States and Cuba, but as everyone knows, we have had migration accords with the country of Cuba for many, many years. Those were discontinued, and we will explore the possibility of resuming that. And that is a reflection of our commitment to legal, orderly, and humane pathways so individuals, including Cubans, do not take, for example, to the seas, which is an extraordinarily perilous journey.
Title 42 – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a while ago now that the use of Title 42, which is a public health authority and not an immigration policy, will discontinue as of May 23rd, and we are in the Department of Homeland Security and throughout the government planning accordingly.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. With regard to Ukraine and the situation in Mariupol and humanitarian corridors, a few things. First, what the world witnessed just a couple of weeks ago when the receding Russian tide from Bucha revealed what was left in its wake in terms of death, destruction, atrocities – we can only anticipate that when this tide also, at some point, recedes from Mariupol we’re going to see far worse, if that’s possible to imagine.
So the conditions there, the situation there as a result of this Russian aggression are truly horrific. And of course, we want to see people who are in harm’s way, if they’re able to, leave it safely and securely. The judgment on whether the humanitarian corridor established to do that from Mariupol is safe and secure is one ultimately that the Ukrainian Government is going to make. We will – we’re certainly assisting in that process, giving our own evaluations and assessments. And ultimately the decision to leave is going to be a burden on the people themselves to make that very difficult decision.
What gives pause is the fact that there have been agreements on humanitarian corridors established before that have fallen apart very, very quickly, if not immediately, principally because the security has been violated by Russian forces. And so people leaving, believing that they can do so safely and securely, were fired upon.
So this is a very, very difficult decision to make, to evaluate not only whether what’s been agreed to, if something’s been agreed to, is safe and secure, but whether Russia will actually live up to whatever obligations it’s undertaken to make sure that people can leave safely and securely. Again, this is for the Government of Ukraine to decide. We’ll do anything we can to try to inform that decision.
MR VASQUEZ: (Via interpreter) Colleagues, with that question, then, we bring to a close today’s press conference after the ministerial conference on migration. Once again, we would like to thank you very much, thank you for your professional coverage of this event. I wish you all a great day.
Secretary Antony J. Blinken
And Transparency International Panama Chapter Executive Director Olga de Obaldía
Opening Remarks at Meeting with Anticorruption and Transparency Advocates
April 19, 2022
American Trade Hotel
Panama City, Panama
MS OBALDIA: Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Olga de Obaldía. I am the executive director of the Panama Chapter of Transparency International. Our organization is called Foundation for the Development of Civil Liberties, or Fundación para el Desarrollo de la Libertad Ciudadana. It is a pleasure for us, our organizations from the nongovernmental sector that are interested in democratic institutions, anticorruption, and transparency, to welcome today to Panama Mr. Secretary Antony Blinken, and I would like to welcome as well the government officials that are here, the embassy officials that are here, the champions of corruption from three countries – Venezuela, Guatemala, and Ecuador – and local activists that are our comrades-in-arm in this fight against corruption in Panama.
I’ve been asked to give you a brief introduction before I’ll let you hear from the star of the meeting, Mr. Blinken, and I’ll start by mentioning something about the American Trade Hotel where we are right now. The American Trade Hotel and Plaza Herrera – Herrera – just in front of us here are symbols of the resilience of Panama in the – and we are in the Old Historic District of Panama. This plaza dates from colonial times, and the building where we are right now – sorry – and the building where we are right now dates from the republican period. It was built in 1917 and housed the American Trade Development Company, and in the hall next door was the first Citibank that helped finance the Panama Canal.
After falling through disrepair, it ended up housing dangerous gangs in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and the 2000s, and at some point the building was called the Grey Skull Castle, if you can imagine that. And through community movement and local investors, the building was rescued and it’s right now one of the symbols of Panama’s resilience. Panama has been through colonial times, republican times, to a dictatorship, to an invasion, and a new era of uninterrupted democracy since 1990.
However, our democracy right now is being threatened by corruption in multiple fronts. I will just mention four of them, and I’m sure that most of the local press and the local officials are very well informed of what we are facing through regarding corruption and lack of transparency.
To start with, let me mention the critical impact of the impunity and the judiciary; second, the corrupt clientelist structure and practices in the national assembly that trickles down to communities and affects electoral fairness; third, a lack of fiscal accountability in the use of public resources; and fourth, a lack of a robust legal framework to fight and prevent corruption in the public and the private sector.
Our instruments to measure corruption are telling us that Panama is stagnant in the fight against corruption. For the last 10 years, Panama has had an average rating of 36 over 100 in the Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International. Moreover, the last transparency index of our parliament showed that Panama has the fourth most opaque parliament or congress in the whole of the Americas. That has an impact, a terrible impact, on the population, and in the last few years, Panama’s population has been showing a lack of faith in democracy. Sixty-five of Panamanian – 65 percent of Panamanian citizens, when asked, are not choosing democracy as their favorite form of government.
On top of that, we need to understand that the relationship between national security and corruption that was so well outlined in the June 3rd memo of the White House regarding the matter is the same thing in Panama. Our national security right now is being threatened by the inclusion in politics and private financing of politics for monies that are known to be from organized crime. And I think you all – most of you know about these facts, and I think this is enough for me. I thank you for the opportunity of talking to you about these matters that are extremely important for us, and I give you Secretary Antony Blinken.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you so much. Thank you. And I appreciate very much the reference to being a featured attraction, but the truth of the matter is these are the stars of the evening – our colleagues who are on the front lines of fighting corruption in various parts of our hemisphere.
We’re here principally because our friends and colleagues in Panama are bringing together countries from around the hemisphere to help deal with the extraordinary phenomenon of irregular migration. But one of the things we know very well is that one of the drivers of that irregular migration is corruption and the revulsion at corruption that people are feeling in many countries in our hemisphere and around the world.
If you look at, as well, the drivers of so many popular movements in every part of the world over the last couple of decades, you often find a revulsion at corruption as being one of if not the driver of these movements. And there’s a good, good reason for that, as Olga said so well. It is draining resources from countries that could be put to much better use supporting the people and supporting their needs. It breeds incredible and understandable cynicism about government and about leadership. It fuels all sorts of illicit enterprises. And of course, it helps perpetuate nondemocratic rule in country after country.
So it is at the source of so many challenges, and we are incredibly gratified that we have champions who at great, often personal risk, as well as professional risk are leading the effort to uncover corruption, to create greater transparency in their societies, to prosecute those responsible – and again, in some cases at such risk that you’ve had to leave the countries that you’re from for your own safety and well-being.
The United States is working hard to support these efforts throughout our hemisphere and indeed around the world. Part of it is by elevating the work of those who are combating corruption, and we are honored and proud to do it. Part of it is by supporting civil society through the funding, assistance, training that we give. Part of it is trying to make sure that we’re doing what we can to protect those who are on the front lines of this effort.
So I was really anxious to be here, not to talk to you but to hear from you, to listen to the work that you’re doing, the challenges you’re facing, and to learn a little bit about how we can do even better and do even more to help in this fight and to help you in your efforts. So let me turn it over to you. Thank you. (Applause.)
ecretary Antony J. Blinken
And Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas
Opening Remarks at the Ministerial Conference on Migration and Protection Reception
April 19, 2022
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Panama City, Panama
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. Good evening, everyone. It is wonderful to be with so many colleagues in this extraordinary setting with this extraordinary history, as Erika was just describing it to us. I very much want to thank President Cortizo, my friend the foreign minister, the people of Panama, for so generously hosting us for this week’s Ministerial Conference on Migration and Protection. And a special note of gratitude to Panama, to you, Erika, for all the work that you’ve been doing to bring all of us together in what has to be a shared responsibility.
I am joined here by my friend and colleague, Ale Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security of the United States. We’re both so eager to discuss with our fellow ministers the urgent migration challenges that we’re facing. No two countries experience them in the same way. All of us bring our own concerns to this discussion but also this sense of shared responsibility to meet the migration challenge throughout our region. And we’re very much looking forward to hearing and sharing specific experiences and specific solutions.
This issue is a priority for the United States. We have a strong interest in protecting the security of our borders in a safe, orderly, and humane way. We care about the well-being of millions of people across the hemisphere who have made the desperate decision to leave their homes and communities in search of a better life. The journeys are often dangerous. Migrants are vulnerable to exploitation of all kinds. Many are children, and their fates, their futures, are highly uncertain. We have a responsibility, a shared responsibility, to look out for them.
Like you, we’re concerned about the rising tensions in communities across the region that have become home to huge numbers of migrants and are now pushed to the brink, unable to meet people’s needs, whether they’re migrants or their own citizens. And we’re focused on the underlying issues that are pushing so many people to become migrants in the first place, including poverty, a lack of economic opportunity, corruption, political upheaval, insecurity – all of which has been made worse by the climate crisis and, of course, by COVID-19.
So I think what we have all come to understand, the common realization that I think is shared with everyone in this room, is that no one country can meet these challenges or solve them alone. The United States is committed to working in partnership with all of you across every dimension of this issue from taking on migrant smuggling networks, to improving humane and effective border management, to countering misinformation, to developing legal pathways for immigrants and refugees seeking a safe place to call home.
In particular, we have to work together to help stabilize and strengthen communities that are hosting large populations of migrants. We have to help them get the tools that they need to rebuild their lives, including access to jobs and education. And we have to make sure that our support directly benefits the communities themselves with increased resources for public health and safety, social services, better infrastructure, opportunity for everyone.
So this has to be a job for all of us, for our governments, doing it together. But it’s also a job for the international community writ large – NGOs, multilateral development and financial institutions, regional and global public health and climate agencies. The United States will help bring together these different groups and leverage all of their contributions to this challenge.
I have to tell you I’m very glad to see here tonight and tomorrow as we meet representatives from key organizations, including the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF. Institutions like these were created to help us meet challenges too great for even our countries together to solve, which is exactly what we’re called on to do now on behalf of the region’s most vulnerable people. And to those agencies and organizations that have already given and implemented assistance, thank you.
I know that we’ll do good work together here in Panama. We have to. And I hope that the additional momentum that we build here, complemented by what we did in Colombia – and my deep appreciation to our colleagues from Colombia for bringing us together some months ago – all of that needs to carry forward in concrete, practical ways.
In June, many of us will come together again in Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas that President Biden will be hosting. There we’ll have an opportunity to address the deeper concerns that drive irregular migration by strengthening our democracies, fighting corruption, building resilience in our health care systems, promoting more equitable economic growth, combating the climate crisis. All of these things in their own ways have an impact on the challenge that we are coming together here tonight and tomorrow to deal with.
President Biden set a goal for the summit that our countries adopt a declaration on migration and protection that sets forth shared principles for a collaborative, coordinated response to migration and forced displacement. So I hope our discussions here today and tomorrow in Panama will contribute to a strong declaration by our leaders when they gather in California in just a few weeks’ time.
So, simply put, to each and every one of you, thank you for your leadership at what is a critical moment. Erika said it very well. There is – we have a regional challenge, a hemispheric challenge, but it’s also a global challenge. There are now around the world more people on the move, displaced from their homes, than at any time since the Second World War, some 95 million people. By definition, this is a challenge that we have to stand together to meet, work together to meet, join together to meet.
With that, it is my pleasure to introduce my friend and colleague, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas. (Applause.)
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Thank you and good evening. My thanks to President Cortizo, Ministers Mouynes and Pino, for welcoming us to this beautiful country. Earlier today I visited the Panama Canal, and it was a very uplifting visit. I did so with my colleague and great friend, Tony Blinken. And the canal represents the promise of economic prosperity and the hope for advancement, and not just today but in the days to come.
Yesterday I had a very different visit. Minister Pino so generously gave of his time to show my colleagues and me the Darién region and to pass over the treacherous land that the most vulnerable people try to pass in the hope of a better future. It is very difficult to see that land and to understand the depths and breadth of the treachery that vulnerable individuals seek to cross with the hope of a better life.
I remember a father of a friend of mine growing up who grew up in very difficult circumstances once said that one’s – when one’s back is up against the wall, the only direction one can move in is forward. And it is our obligation collectively to close the divide between the promise of economic prosperity that the canal represents and the vulnerability that the Darién region represents for so many who seek a better life. And I want to thank the ministers for bringing us all together to work on an effort that requires a collective response, because the movement of people in the Western Hemisphere, and frankly in other parts of the world, is not the challenge of one country or two; it is the challenge of the region and of the hemisphere of which we are a part. And we must take a look at the individuals who are vulnerable as members of our community, and we must deliver a response of and by the community.
The most enduring way in which we can address this challenge which has been with us for far too many years is to deliver stabilization, to deliver for the people in their homes the promise that the canal represents, and allow them to understand and actually realize that they do not need to leave their homes to experience the promise that so many of us here represent and are obligated to deliver to others.
At the same time, as we work on that most enduring solution of addressing the cause for migration, we must also extend a hand, an outstretched hand, of humanitarian relief to those who are already outside of their homes to be able to provide them with the promise of that prosperity wherever they might be so that the dangers of the journey that they once anticipated ahead of them they need no longer take. The promise of humanitarian relief and the stability of settlement and integration, as well as an understanding that the laws that guide our extension of humanitarian relief must be honored, and for those who do not qualify we must apply those laws equally.
These issues and the lines that draw – are drawn between the relief and the response that we must impose when that relief is not warranted are very, very difficult to draw. They are very difficult decisions, but we as leaders in our respective countries, and together as leaders of a community throughout a region and a hemisphere, are obligated to make those difficult decisions, and that is what makes this convening so very important – bringing us together to make those difficult decisions in partnership and in friendship with one another so that we can deliver the promise of a better future to those who do not see it and so that we can accept this responsibility in a shared and, therefore, most effective way.
I thank you all so very much. I look forward to our very important conversations tomorrow. And again, my thanks to our wonderful hosts here in this beautiful country of Panama. Gracias. (Applause.)
Update on the Collaborative Migration Management Strategy
Since the launch of the Collaborative Migration Management Strategy, the U.S. Government has made progress with its partners on each line of action, setting the strong foundation of collaborative migration management upon which to further build. The February 2, 2021 Executive Order, Creating a Comprehensive Regional Framework to Address the Causes of Migration, to Manage Migration Throughout North and Central America, and to Provide Safe and Orderly Processing of Asylum Seekers at the United States Border, called for a strategy to collaboratively manage migration. The Collaborative Migration Management Strategy, launched on July 29, 2021, identifies and prioritizes actions to strengthen cooperative efforts to manage safe, orderly, and humane migration in North and Central America. Specifically, the Collaborative Migration Management Strategy aims to address urgent humanitarian needs, promote access to protection and legal pathways for migration, improve secure and humane border management, and provide support for returnees to successfully reintegrate into their communities. Addressing these objectives requires sustained cooperation with a broad range of stakeholders, including Congress, civil society, international organizations, the private sector, labor unions, and governments inside and outside the region.
Stabilize Populations with Acute Needs
- Surge U.S. Humanitarian Assistance: In light of dire conditions and acute suffering faced by millions of people in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, Vice President Harris announced in April 2021 an additional $310 million in U.S. Government support for humanitarian relief and to address food insecurity from the Department of State, USAID, DOD and USDA. This announcement brought the total amount of humanitarian assistance provided by State and USAID to more than $272 million for the responses in Central America and Mexico. DOD additionally allocated or re-aligned a total of $26 million to address the humanitarian drivers of migration, with a focus on El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras projects. USDA increased its original $55 million commitment to support food security by extending two of its existing programs in Guatemala and Honduras by an additional $20 million, bringing the total value to $75 million.
- UN Humanitarian Response Plans: The United Nations (UN) launched the 2021–2022 Humanitarian Response Plans for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in response to high-level engagement and direct appeals by the United States, with the UN appealing for $588 million to target 4.3 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. The United States has provided nearly $169 million toward the efforts laid out in the UN Humanitarian Response Plans for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Expand Access to International Protection
- Build and Improve National Asylum Systems: In Guatemala, the State Department funded the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to continue supporting the Government of Guatemala to build its asylum capacity in line with its national action plan commitments under the Comprehensive Regional Protection and Solutions Framework (MIRPS). Guatemala received more than 1,000 asylum claims in 2021, which is over double the number received in any prior year. In Mexico, the Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR) accepted more than 131,000 applications for asylum in 2021, becoming the third highest receiver of claims in the world. With State Department support through UNHCR, COMAR granted asylum to 37,806 individuals in 2021.
- Establish Migration Resource Centers (MRCs): With State Department funding, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), UNHCR, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) collaborated with the Government of Guatemala to establish three MRCs (referred to locally as Centros de Atención a Personas Migrantes y Refugiadas, or CAPMIRs) in Guatemala City, Tecun Uman, and Quetzaltenango. In addition, seven mobile units operate as part of the MRC network, covering six departments of Guatemala. The MRCs are located to benefit communities at risk of displacement, with high levels of emigration, and also along transit routes. They are designed to evaluate individuals’ protection, humanitarian, and economic needs in order to provide appropriate services and referrals, and have reached more than 32,000 individuals.
- Child Protection: In Guatemala, the State Department funded UNICEF to support the Guatemalan Migration Institute to establish a new Child Protection Unit (UAPNA), which deployed Child Protection Officers to the southern and northern borders of Guatemala. At the municipal level, State Department funding for UNICEF supported the establishment of Child Protection Offices in 40 percent of the 340 Guatemalan municipalities. In addition, State Department funding for UNHCR supported five departments in Guatemala implementing protocols for foster homes as an alternative care model for unaccompanied children. In Mexico, State Department funding to UNICEF and UNHCR helped child welfare authorities in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez to eliminate long-standing backlogs of hundreds of best interest determinations for migrant children, which are required by Mexican law for all children encountered by the national migration authority.
Expand Access to Protection in Countries of Origin
- Humanitarian and Development Assistance for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs): In El Salvador, the State Department supported the UNHCR launch of the Creating Opportunities program to offer technical and professional courses to improve livelihoods of young IDPs and others at risk of violence or exploitation by gangs, including forced recruitment. In Honduras, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funded psychosocial support, gender-based violence prevention activities, migration awareness, and children’s rights protection information to approximately 5,100 Honduran youth and to over 1,375 returned migrants and IDPs impacted by the 2020 hurricanes.
- Detection and Services for Trafficking Victims: USAID funding in El Salvador supported work at the border to detect and refer victims of trafficking for appropriate services. In Guatemala, the State Department funded the Pan American Development Foundation in partnership with local organizations to improve the detection of human trafficking cases and provide services to over 250 victims, including medical care, mental health support, legal assistance, education, and reintegration services.
Expand Third Country Labor Migration Programs While Improving Worker Protections
- Institutional Capacity Building: USAID supported the Guatemalan Ministry of Labor, the Honduran Ministry of Labor, and the Salvadoran Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the design and implementation of new processes to increase access to seasonal work opportunities abroad, resulting in a record number of H-2B visas issued to nationals of these countries in FY 2021 with further growth expected in FY 2022. In Costa Rica, State Department funding for IOM supported the processing of 18,000 migrant requests in the agricultural temporary labor migration category. In addition, State Department funding for IOM supported a bilateral dialogue forum between the Governments of Belize and El Salvador on opportunities to improve labor migration regularization procedures between both countries.
- Expand Support for Migrant Worker Protections: In El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, USAID funded pre-departure training for seasonal workers on their rights under the H-2 visa program. In El Salvador, State Department funding for IOM supported the participation of officials from the Ministries of Labor and External Affairs in a specialized course on best practices in labor migration management. The Salvadoran Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare also hosted an event to share best practices on ethical recruitment, involving participants from El Salvador, Honduras, and Panama.
- Strengthen Worker Outreach and Compliance Assistance: The U.S. Department of Labor, through its Wage and Hour Division (WHD) redoubled its efforts to conduct outreach to stakeholders regarding the requirements of the H-2A and H-2B programs, as well as the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. Since August 2021, WHD has conducted 597 outreach events through its district and regional offices. WHD also provided compliance assistance and education to multiple national agricultural employer stakeholders and participated in a cross-departmental presentation hosted by DHS to over 300 stakeholders in addition to interagency meetings with Northern Central America government agencies to explain H-2A program requirements. Finally, WHD published a one-page summary sheet on key H-2A worker protections and shared this information, along with other outreach materials, such as worker rights cards and information on how to file a complaint, with consular staff and USAID contractors for distribution to workers.
Assist and Reintegrate Returned Persons
- Expand Reception and Reintegration Services: Over the last two years, almost 120,000 (22,308 women, 75,271 men, 7,866 girls and 13,740 boys) returned migrants have gone through the USAID-supported reception processes in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. USAID provided almost 9,000 returned or prospective migrants with psycho-social assistance, job skill development and vocational training, job orientation and placement, and reinsertion to school in the three countries. The USAID-supported Reception Center for Returned Migrants in Guatemala City established a permanent presence of officials to issue national identification cards to returnees free of charge, an official clinic and COVID-19 vaccination center for returnees, and the permanent presence of the Ministry of Labor, including initial pilot programs to link returnees with job opportunities.
- Support Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR): From August through December 2021, the State Department funded IOM to administer AVR supporting 1,250 vulnerable migrants in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. The State Department is funding an IOM regional program to expand AVR to additional countries and nationalities in the Western Hemisphere.
Foster Secure and Humane Management of Borders
- Institutional Capacity Building: In order to manage irregular migration and the growing number of unaccompanied children transiting through and departing from Guatemala, from July through December 2021, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) trained over 600 Government of Guatemala personnel. In addition, DHS mentors in Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Tijuana in Mexico worked alongside Government of Mexico officials to counter human smuggling and fraud. DHS mentoring efforts in Honduras resulted in the arrest of 110 human smugglers in 2021 and the transfer of over 190 unaccompanied migrant children to Honduras’s children and family directorate. These capacity building efforts represent a U.S. Government multi-agency effort to enhance security throughout the law enforcement process, from investigation to arrest to successful prosecution.
- Enhance Migrant-Smuggling and Human-Trafficking Investigations and Prosecutions: DHS information exchange with Mexican and Central American counterparts resulted in multiple leads for Operation Sentinel, an interagency counter-network operation targeting transnational criminal organizations affiliated with the smuggling of migrants. In addition, under Joint Task Force Alpha, the Department of Justice with DHS investigated and prosecuted human smuggling and trafficking groups operating in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. In Guatemala, efforts focus on the indictments and extraditions of Guatemalan human smugglers to the United States to face prosecution. In Honduras, DHS is supporting Operation Scorpion, a border surge initiative of the Honduran National Police, targeting human smugglers and traffickers.
- Increase Information Sharing with and among Regional Partners: State Department foreign assistance funding supported a regional effort to share criminal intelligence about transnational criminal organizations and associated criminals in Central America, with a focus on migrant smuggling and human trafficking. During 2021, this effort facilitated the identification of suspected members and networks of transnational criminal organizations.
Strengthen Regional Public Messaging on Migration
- Promote Accurate Information Countering Human Smugglers: The State Department provided factual information about U.S. immigration policies, including digital content specifically for Haitian migrants reaching more than 1.5 million individuals between August and December 2021. The State Department supported IOM to expand its Migration Information Portal and register over 4,500 new portal users from July to December 2021 to provide information on legal migration pathways in the region. USAID also launched migration messaging campaigns in the region: in El Salvador, the “De Aquí Soy” campaign launched in September 2021 and reached almost two million people in three months; in Honduras, the two-part documentary “In the Claws of the Coyote” reached approximately 800,000 viewers; and in Guatemala, the “Quédate Aquí” video series was seen by more than 1.6 million viewers on local TV.
Expand Access to Lawful Pathways for Protection and Opportunity in the United States
- Restart and Expand Central American Minors (CAM) Program and other U.S. Refugee Admissions Program Processing: In September 2021, the State Department and DHS expanded the eligibility categories for U.S.-based relatives who can apply for their children in Northern Central America to access the CAM program. State is working to streamline the CAM application and has put out a Notice for Funding Opportunities for organizations to have dedicated funding to work on CAM applications. Since its restart, cases for nearly 1,700 children have been either reopened or submitted. As of April 13, there have been 1,023 beneficiaries from CAM and other U.S. refugee admissions programs in Central America who arrived in the United States in FY 2022.
- Increase Access to Temporary Work Visas While Ensuring Worker Protections: DHS and DOL will issue two temporary final rules this fiscal year, providing for supplemental visa allocations of 18,000 H-2B visas reserved for nationals of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, or Haiti (6,500 allotted for the first half of FY 2022 and 11,500 for the second half of FY 2022). These follow an H-2B supplemental allocation that DHS and DOL issued in May 2021, reserving an allocation for the first time for Northern Central American nationals. The United States has also undertaken efforts to significantly increase the number of Northern Central American agricultural workers who receive an H-2A visa, and has conducted outreach with stakeholders and provided information on program requirements and worker protections. Cierto Global, a non-profit ethical recruiter, has received private funding to establish operations in Guatemala in order to ethically recruit, train, and place H-2A agricultural workers on farms in the United States. USAID facilitated contacts between Cierto Global and the Government of Guatemala to help Cierto quickly establish operations in Guatemala.
- High-Level Donor Roundtable for Humanitarian Response Plans: In order to internationalize the response to the UN Humanitarian Response Plans and broaden the funding base, the United States, Canada, and European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, in partnership with the UN, co-hosted a high-level virtual donor roundtable meeting in November 2021.
- Migration Ministerial Meeting: In October 2021, the United States and Colombia co-hosted a Ministerial Meeting in Bogotá on the Causes and Challenges of Irregular Migration, resulting in a Joint Declaration signed by 17 countries from our region, reiterating the United States’ commitment to working collaboratively to address the migration challenges throughout the region. In April 2022, the United States and Panama co-hosted a further Ministerial Meeting in Panama City to redouble collaborative efforts on the regional response to migration and displacement.