Migrant children and families fleeing crime, joblessness

In recent months we have seen the rise of unaccompanied children on the border between the United States and Mexico. Many of these are from the northern triangle of Central America, formed by El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

The phenomenon is complex and has many reasons: the increasing sophistication of human smuggling, which sees children as a niche market; criminal activity in parts of Central America and the endemic lack of opportunities for our people.

However, we believe that the main motive behind this flow of migrants is the desire of families to reunite with their children. Since no legal option for reunification exists, families choose the risky alternative.

At a meeting this Friday between Vice President Joe Biden and Central American leaders, our president, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, will reiterate our position that the primary endpoint in the phenomenon is family reunification. In addition, he will confirm the commitment of our government to work hard to improve the socio-economic roots of the lack of opportunities for our youth and our need to attract more private sector investment.

In this area, we thank the United States for the approval of the second compact of the Millennium Challenge Corporation and we hope to sign it soon. The second MCC compact will generate many jobs and important development in the coastal zone of El Salvador, the area where many of our migrants originate.

We will also redouble efforts to combat the scourge of gangs threatening to recruit our children. President Sánchez Cerén has established a security strategy that prioritizes the prevention of violence, community work and state intervention for the most vulnerable communities in our country.

We understand the concern of the U.S. government about the issue of immigration. We are aware that the phenomenon is not a stranger to electoral considerations; however, we must not ignore the fact that children detained at the border have universal rights that should be given priority over the interests of an expedient solution.

Children are entitled to receive special protection from our consulates, where we contact their family members, collaborate on reunification either in the United States and El Salvador and avoid re-victimization.

We emphasize that our consulates and U.S. legislation stress that any solution must be for the best interests of the children and their safety.

To protect our children, we have strengthened our consulates near the border and our deputy minister for Salvadorans abroad, Liduvina Magarín, visited the border this week to understand the phenomenon firsthand.

At the same time, our authorities will investigate the networks of human smugglers that profit from our families by offering them false ideas about unauthorized immigration.

The strategic solution is to address the socioeconomic causes that lead the citizens of El Salvador to emigrate to the United States.

Although we are confident that campaigns to discourage migration will be important to inform many potential migrants about the risk of the travel, the lasting solution comes from a strategic dialogue that the countries of northern triangle of Central America, Mexico and the United States will create about three issues with common roots: immigration, citizen insecurity and lack of economic growth.

Because of this, we welcome Vice President Biden’s visit to Central America, and hope it becomes a step in a frank, respectful and efficient dialogue.

We are willing to work for a country that offers more job opportunities to the vast majority of Salvadorans, less social and economic inequity and a safe environment for our children. This vision is enriched by the pursuit of a transnational approach that deals with the root causes of the phenomenon, rather than just treats its consequences.

These kids who come to the United States are not only the children of our countries. They are the children of our region.

Rubén Zamora is the ambassador of El Salvador to the United States.