Carper leads delegation that finds emergency conditions in Central America, not border

A group of congressional Democrats from Delaware and New Jersey visited leaders and residents in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to understand the influx of migrants.

Senator Tom Carper talks with merchants at a market in Guatemala during a trip to Central America. (Courtesy of Sen. Tom Carper’s Office)

Senator Tom Carper talks with merchants at a market in Guatemala during a trip to Central America. (Courtesy of Sen. Tom Carper’s Office)

The arrival of migrant caravans from Central America has drawn lots of attention to the United States.-Mexico border. Ahead of the midterm election, President Donald Trump pointed to the thousands of people making their way toward the U.S. as evidence of a crisis at the border and sent soldiers to secure the area.

But the focus of the crisis isn’t at the border, it’s in the Central American countries those migrants are fleeing, said Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware.

“Whether it’s violence or extortion or violence based on drugs, it’s something that’s happening to individuals that’s causing them to want to leave,” she said.

She joined a delegation of congressional Democrats — including Rep. Donald Norcross of New Jersey and led by Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware — on a trip to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“They’re such sweet people, and it’s hard to believe that people that nice and that gracious can kill each other as much as they do,” Carper said. “We’re actually complicit in their misery … because of our drug addiction.”

Gangs such as MS-13, which Trump points to frequently as a threat to the U.S., actually arose in Los Angeles in the 1980s, Carper said.

The delegation was briefed on the Alliance for Prosperity, a USAID program started under the Obama administration to help stabilize the region and improve economic opportunities.

“We had a chance to see some of the good that’s taking place and actually feel the excitement of the people there that somebody has their back and they’re not alone,” Carper said.

Funding for the alliance has been slow, but it’s now finally getting where it’s needed.

Blunt Rochester said she focused on the dangerous conditions women in the three countries face, especially considering the number of women who bring their young children on the long trek to get to the U.S. border.

“When you hear of some of the challenges that some women face in their own country, they are basically making a decision, ‘Do I stay here and deal with maybe domestic violence or extortion, or do I take the risk with my children?’” she said.

The group met with Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and Salvadoran President-elect Nayib Bukele to urge them to protect human rights and uphold democratic institutions. They also talked with the attorneys general in Guatemala and Honduras about the importance of fighting against corruption.

Carper and Blunt Rochester are both optimistic about new leadership in the region, including 38-year-old Bukele.

“It’s a new generation of leadership coming up, that’s exciting for them, and I could feel the excitement,” Carper said.

The trip reinforced Carper’s opposition to funding for the southern border wall. Following Trump’s emergency declaration to secure funds, Carper tweeted that “not getting your way in a democracy” does not warrant a national emergency.

“Leaders should be purveyors of hope, we should be aspirational and appeal to people’s better angels,” Carper said.

He added that illegal immigration is down 80 percent since 2000, and the number of Mexicans leaving the U.S. to return home now outnumbers the number of Mexicans coming here.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal