Pence to address second security conference with Mexico and Central American leaders

Vice President Mike Pence will speak Thursday at the second security conference with leaders of Mexico and Central America on ongoing concerns about illegal immigration, corruption and drug trafficking.

The two-day conference in Washington, hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, will be the second conference and third gathering for Pence, and key members of the Trump Cabinet, to discuss strategies and shared commitment to addressing the root problems of the region. The first conference was held last year in Miami.

“The vice president looks forward to strengthening our national security by addressing the critical issues of illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and achieving a more prosperous Central America,” a White House official said in a statement.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, Salvadoran Vice President Oscar Ortiz, Mexican Security of Foreign Relations Luis Videgaray and Mexican Secretary of Government Alfonso Navarrete are expected to attend.

In meetings in Miami and Guatemala, Pence has delivered a mix of charm and warnings, assuring leaders that the United States was allied with the region but also pressing leaders to take concrete steps to secure their borders.

Facing threats that the Trump administration could cut off their foreign aid, Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran officials have been careful about pushing back on controversial U.S. immigration policy while pledging to continue to work with President Donald Trump and his administration.

While migration from Mexico has decreased, people arriving from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have become the greatest source of migrants crossing the southern border. The flow of money from the U.S. to the Northern Triangle is substantial. The United States dedicated $140 million in foreign aid to Guatemala in 2017, $95 million to Honduras and $72 million to El Salvador.

Pence and other administration officials blame weak economies, corruption, drugs and violence for spurring the migration crisis. Pence said the United States will continue to work with the countries to address these challenges, but has pressed the region to take stronger action.

In June, at the national palace in Guatemala City, Pence outlined steps the Trump administration wanted the nations to take to strengthen their borders and increase security.

“I have a message for the people of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, straight from my heart, and from the heart of the American people,” Pence said. “If you want to come to the United States, come legally, or don’t come at all.”

Franco Ordoñez: 202-383-6155, @francoordonez