MCALLEN, Texas – U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez says he would like to see a humane processing center for asylum seekers built on the Mexico-Guatemala border.

Gonzalez said he made the pitch in a one-hour meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris earlier this week. The meeting included other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. 

“As you know, I continue to advocate for a humane processing center very similar to what we have now, American-made, American-manned, on Mexico’s southern border or Guatemala’s northern border where people can ask for asylum there,” Gonzalez said.

“If they qualify they can just fly in to the country. And if they don’t we can address ideas and programs that can help them on the ground there and try to slow this migration.”

Such a course of action, Gonzalez said, would “send the message that our borders are not open, they will never be open and they (asylum seekers) should not make this very dangerous trek through Mexico.” 

Having a processing center in southern Mexico and/or northern Guatemala, Gonzalez said, would help “get the cartel element of human smuggling out of the equation.”

Gonzalez made his comments during a virtual news conference on Thursday.

Gonzalez told reporters that CHC members were able to talk freely with Harris about issues impacting the southwest border. Even more important, he said, was the opportunity to discuss the root causes of undocumented migration and “what we can do as a country to address them in the three Central American countries where 90 percent of this migration is coming from.”

Gonzalez said investments need to be made to address the root causes of the current surge in migration to the southwest border region.

“I think it is something that is long overdue. When people say we have a crisis on the border, I always like to say we have a problem on the border and a crisis in three Central American countries that have had failed American policies for decades,” Gonzalez said. “We were able to have meaningful discussion on ideas that I have had for a while, on issues that I think would address our situation.”

Gonzalez said the meeting with Harris involved an hour-long conversation. He said it was the first of many to come, noting that the vice president is due to visit Central America in the near future. 

“I think it was very productive to say the least and we plan to meet with her again on her return. We continue to work on solutions to the issues we are addressing on our southern border.” 

Asked by a reporter to go into more detail about the root causes of the current migrant flow, Gonzalez said: “We talked about areas that people are migrating from. Many of those areas would be alleviated with better investment in agriculture to create more jobs and more food security; more manufacturing and, in fact, incentivizing manufacturing to those countries that create more employment.”

By way of an example, Gonzalez spoke about a manufacturer in Guatemala producing one line of hush puppy shoes.

“We have one person who manufacturers hush puppy shoes for an American company and employees a thousand Guatemalans with one line of shoes. He was given a second line and he employed another thousand. Imagine if we could create incentives for hush puppies to give him five lines of their models. That would immediately create 5,000 new employments in Guatemala and that is just one of many, many, examples that we discussed.”

Another thing that needs to be done, Gonzalez said, is provide more opportunities for young people.

“Certainly, creating security and educating their youth, we believe that youth is the same all over the world. Boys and girls clubs, soccer fields, after school programs, that create security for children, keeps them out of gangs, keeps them out of violence, keeps them from migrating, keeps the families together. These are just a few of the many ideas and issues that we discussed that are so, so important.”

Gonzalez said lessons need to be learned from failed efforts in the past. He said he wants to see the private sector involved more in addressing the root causes of migration from Central America.

“For me, I thought it was important that we engage the private sector. I know that in the past we have given hundreds of millions of American taxpayer dollars to NGOs (non-government organizations) and ultimately they did not get to the root cause and they did not create the impact we were hoping for,” Gonzalez said.

“So, we will now be having very strict monitoring of any investments that we make down there too assure that we have results and they are going to be results-based investments.”

In a news release about the meeting with Harris, Gonzalez said he was encouraged by the Biden-Harris administration’s approach to dealing with the root causes of migration. The release said this approach can help “reduce the cyclical nature of irregular migration with long-term support to help strengthen government institutions, combat corruption and impunity, increase economic opportunity, reduce violence in the region and provide humanitarian assistance for natural disasters.”

Gonzalez said: “It’s imperative that we work together to stem the flow of migrants to our southern border. The bottom line is that our communities in South Texas, hardworking personnel on the ground and our current immigration system are overwhelmed. We need to address the root causes of migration in the countries of origin in a bipartisan way or we’re going to continue to experience migration happen long after this administration leaves office. I thank Vice President Harris for visiting with us today and look forward to working with her to get us on the right track.” 

U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz, MD, chairs the CHC. He has also spoken about the meeting with Harris.

“I would like to thank Vice President Kamala Harris for meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) today to discuss her ongoing efforts in the Northern Triangle,” Ruiz, D-Calif., said. “The Biden-Harris Administration’s professional, humane, and smart method to address the root causes of migration is the right approach to reduce the cyclical nature of mass migration. The CHC will continue to lead in Congress and collaborate under Vice President Harris’ strong leadership to strengthen the Northern Triangle countries’ governmental institutions, combat corruption and impunity, increase economic opportunity, reduce violence, and provide immediate and long-term humanitarian assistance for natural disaster preparedness.”

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