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Seizing our moment in Central America

“Costa Rica has agreed to temporarily host refugees from the Northern Triangle as they are processed and screened for resettlement in the United States or elsewhere.”
Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., represented Delaware for 36 years in the U.S. Senate before becoming the 47th and current Vice President of the United States
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Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales is congratulated by US Vice-President Joe Biden, during his inauguration ceremony in Guatemala City, on January 14, 2016 Crédito: Luis Echeverría/AFP/Getty Images

In this heated campaign season, there has been no shortage of proposals for how to address the challenge of immigration on our southern border. Build walls. Deport people en masse. And all of it accompanied by a constant stream of inflammatory rhetoric against immigrants. These responses tarnish our most closely-held values and ignore our cherished history as a nation of immigrants where the poor and vulnerable have a fair shot to achieve the American dream.

Our Administration has embraced a fundamentally different approach to the gut-wrenching challenge of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America arriving at our southern border. I know this better than anyone, because when this migration spiked at nearly 50,000 children two summers ago, President Obama asked me to lead our response.

As Vice President I’ve traveled to Costa Rica, Honduras, and three times to Guatemala. Just this year, I’ve met three times with the presidents of the Northern Triangle countries of Central America—El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. And today, I’m meeting again with President Solis of Costa Rica to discuss our next steps, in cooperation with the United Nations, to help vulnerable families and individuals in the region.

Migration from Central America is a complex problem with no easy answers. Addressing the factors that push families and children to flee—including crushing poverty, endemic violence, and a deep desire for family reunification—requires hard trade-offs.

That’s why the Obama-Biden administration has embraced a two-track approach, which offers relief to those in immediate danger while also pursuing long-term solutions to address the underlying drivers of migration.

Ultimately, we want the people of Central America to have a future of hope and prosperity in their own countries. But those suffering under terrible violence today cannot wait for fundamental change. That’s why we’ve made it easier for vulnerable individuals in Central America to be considered for our resettlement programs.

And today, President Solis and I will discuss another important step: Costa Rica has agreed to temporarily host refugees from the Northern Triangle as they are processed and screened for resettlement in the United States or elsewhere.

We are also working with other regional partners like Mexico, to ensure that all migrants are treated humanely and that any steps to limit undocumented migration respect the human dignity of migrants and give full consideration to their refugee claims under the law.

These short-term steps go hand in hand with our longer-term strategy. The United States has dramatically increased our foreign assistance for Central America in the past two years, more than doubling our budget for the region from $317 million in 2014 to $750 million today. We’ve directed departments and agencies across our Administration to deliver concrete results and worked with Congress to ensure our efforts are appropriately funded.

At the same time, we’ve been very clear that that this money is not a gift. It’s contingent upon each country meeting specific benchmarks for strengthening security and implementing political and economic reforms. I have personally challenged the presidents El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to honor their commitments to us and, more importantly, to their own people. To their credit, they created the Alliance for Prosperity to coordinate their own efforts, and they’ve put up $2.6 billion of their own money to match our financial commitment to the region.

Together, we’ve developed a comprehensive plan that is rooted in our commitment to improving security—the indispensable foundation for all other progress. And we’re going to keep working to eradicate the transnational criminal networks that drive drug smuggling, human trafficking and financial crime.

On the economic front, we’ve put in place programs to expand prosperity more broadly. But we also recognize that improving governance is the key to attracting the international investment that Central America needs, so we’ve instituted anti-corruption initiatives to reform police departments, court systems, customs procedures, and tax collection.

Central America still has a long way to go. But progress is possible with continued political will on all sides. Earlier this year, I attended President Morales’ inauguration in Guatemala. After the previous president and vice president were ousted on corruption charges, President Morales was elected to clean up the government. So during his inaugural address, he asked the audience and everyone watching at home to stand, place their hands on their hearts, and join him in taking an oath to fight corruption—to put Guatemala first. It was a powerful moment with a powerful message: Everyone has to be part of the solution.

The people of Central America are eager to seize this moment of opportunity to achieve lasting change. And the United States will continue to work with all of our partners in the region and support their progress to make Central America the next great success story of the Western Hemisphere.

Disclaimer: We selected this Op-Ed to be published in our opinion section as a contribution to public debate. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of its author(s) and/or the organization(s) they represent and do not reflect the views or the editorial line of Univision Noticias.