MCALLEN, RGV – Although Congressman Vicente Gonzalez was happy to bring 20-plus colleagues from the U.S. House of Representatives to the border region on Saturday, he would have rather been taking them to the three Northern Triangle countries.

This is because the McAllen Democrat believes the “root of the problem” with the current asylum-seekers crisis lies with the conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

According to officials, the vast majority of newly-arrived migrants locked up in detention centers across America are from the so-called Northern Triangle countries. 

“When we go to the detention center and we go to the border and see people getting detained, all we are dealing with and all we are looking at is the tragedy of what is happening in three Central American countries,” Gonzalez told reporters, following a news conference at the humanitarian respite center in McAllen on Saturday.

Gonzalez has visited El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras a number of times. Asked what the conditions are like there, he said:

“There is insecurity on the ground, violence and lack of economic opportunity. We have MS-13 and other gangs and cartels that are moving drugs and extorting people and then we have lack of opportunity. It is a cycle.”

Asked how many of his colleagues in the U.S. House had visited the Northern Triangle countries, Gonzalez said, not many.

“Very few have visited these countries, which is why I keep pounding on this issue. It is great to come and see what is happening on the border but we need to get to the root of the problem which is those Central American countries that need American assistance,” Gonzalez said.

“We have not been the best neighbor to those countries historically. We have had civil wars and dictatorships and all kinds of issues down there and we could have done more to help. We are dealing with the result of failed American policy in those Central American states and maybe now we are looking at Nicaragua and Venezuela as well.”

Asked what the first steps should be, Gonzalez said:

“I think we need to get on the ground and help those three countries, support them, bring security on the ground, stop the gang violence, stop the cartels and then invest in their economy. Invest in manufacturing, invest in agriculture, invest in tourism and other industries that will create employment to incentivize citizens to want to stay in their native country.”

Gonzalez said private corporations do not want to invest in those countries because of a lack of security. 

“We have to bring security to those countries to be able to invite foreign investment that creates manufacturing jobs, that creates agricultural jobs, that creates tourism. That will create the environment for people to want to stay home in their native country.”

The House members Gonzalez and U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela brought to the border region were all Democrats. The day before their visit, Vice President Mike Pence and Republican senators also came to town. Asked if there was any bipartisan moves to check out what is happening in the Northern Triangle, Gonzalez said:

“We had some money that was appropriated which the president has threatened to pull back, which would have the opposite effect of what he is looking for. If he is trying to stop migration you want to invest more in those countries. Just look at how much it is costing us right now. Billions of dollars being invested in our southern border. We just had this supplemental bill that we voted on last week. I think we should take all those funds and invest them in those Central American countries and create conditions that will make people want to stay home.”

One of the House members to visit the border region was Congresswoman Nydia Margarita Velázquez Serrano of New York. Asked about conditions in the Northern Triangle countries, Velázquez said: 

“There has been exploitation of natural resources by corporations coming to Central America, paying pennies to these people. Coupled with the violence that is taking place in those countries. We need to make an investment the same way we make investment in other countries around the world. Are you going to tell me that those are not our issues when we are providing resources in all those other countries. How much have we invested in Iraq and Afghanistan and other parts of the world? And this next door, these are our neighbors.”

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin of Michigan was also on the South Texas border trip. Levin is a member of the House foreign affairs committee and the Western Hemisphere subcommittee.

“We are specifically charged on the committee and the subcommittee to make policy about the Northern Triangle. The administration has not come to us. They do not seek to have a coherent policy. We have questioned them when they have come before the committee. Many of the positions in the State Department aren’t even filled. We need to do everything we can to increase security for people in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and to help improve the economy there so people can stay at home where they want to be and have work and safety,” Levin said.

Asked if the Trump Administration has proposed ideas to improve the situation in the Northern Triangle, Levin said:

“Absolutely not. What they have done in fact, is stripped out, unilaterally, the investment we made. We voted for as a Congress. We need to improve the situation there, not make it worse.”

Another Democrat on the tour was U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier of California. During the news conference Speier pointed out that she and her colleagues had stayed in a Holiday Inn in the Rio Grande Valley and paid $100 for a suite with four beds. She said the U.S. government is spending hundreds of dollars per night on every asylum-seeker and the conditions are deplorable. “It is extraordinarily costly,” she said.

Asked if she had heard of any proposals from the White House to address the problems in the Northern Triangle, Speier said:

“The president of the United States is the president for all of the people in the United States, not just the Republican Party. It is incumbent on him to bring us all together and come up with a vehicle by which we can provide the funding and resources and the foreign aid that is necessary to help the Northern Triangle countries, to resurrect themselves into a safe environment.”

Asked how she responded to claims that the Northern Triangle is not America’s concern, Speier said: “It clearly has everything to do with the U.S. because all these people are coming from the Northern Triangle.”

Another Democrat that visited a detention center and a humanitarian respite center was U.S. Rep. David Price of North Carolina. Price pointed out that Congress had appropriated funding for the Northern Triangle countries.

“Let’s be clear about this. President Trump unilaterally has cut off all of the support for the Triangle counties. In the middle of the fiscal year. This money designed – it is not enough money – but it is money that was appropriated late in the Obama administration to improve the conditions in these countries. Now as a way of punishing these countries he going to cut off this aid. That is absolutely counter-productive.”