MCALLEN, RGV – Following a visit to Guatemala, Congressman Vicente Gonzalez says the United States can and should do more to encourage Guatemalans to avoid migrating to the U.S.
Gonzalez visited Guatemala with U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Congressmen Ruben Kihuen of Nevada. The visit included a meeting with Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales. The congressional delegation also visited Mexico City.
Gonzalez said the agenda in Guatemala included discussions on alleviating the “push factors” for irregular migration by improving American foreign policy.
He said the delegation visited the Guatemalan Repatriation and Reception Center that handles immigrants deported from the United States.
Gonzalez, Cassidy and Kihuen also took part in a meeting hosted by the Council of the Americas, visited the Mirador Basin at the invitation of the Guatemalan government to discuss the potential for economic development to displace drug trafficking, and visited U.S. Marines stationed in Flores as a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force.
“It as my second visit to Guatemala. We have a very good relationship with President Morales of Guatemala and his ambassador in Washington, D.C. What we are trying to do is find ways to address the migration issue in these countries and find ways to incentivize people to want to stay home,” Gonzalez told the Rio Grande Guardian.
“What we did is, we picked out the regions where people are most likely to migrate from and we talked about coming up with farm programs to help those regions.”
Gonzalez cited a U.S.-funded farm program that helped the state of Chiapas, Mexico.
“The farm program in Chiapas, Mexico, kept people at home and kept people from leaving. US AID has a few programs where we teach some farmers how to increase productivity four- or five-fold. For example, we are trying to see how we can bring foreign investment, especially small manufacturing to certain regions, to create employment and also address security issues.”
Gonzalez said one of the things he learned on his trip to Guatemala was why people are emigrating to the United States.
“The two reasons people are leaving these countries is, insecurity and lack of economic opportunity. We always talk about the crisis on the border but we never really talk about how we got here. Still to this day we are not addressing how we got to this point,” Gonzalez said.
“The problem did not begin and is not ending here at our border. We need to get to the root of it. Where, exactly, are the people migrating from in that country? There are usually two or three regions that bring most of the migration. Address the insecurity issues in those regions and try to find foreign investment and also more productivity within local business folks to employ these people and keep them at home.”
Asked how violent it was to live in Guatemala, Gonzalez said:
“It is particularly bad in El Salvador. I was there with Sister Norma Pimentel of RGV Catholic Charities a few months ago. El Salvador, you can just feel the tension in the country. There is a high level of insecurity,” Gonzalez said.
“In Guatemala it is less so and it is concentrated in certain regions. But, it still needs to be addressed. The president is trying to address insecurity. I think within those three Central American countries (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras), Guatemala is probably in the best shape but certainly has a ways to go. We are trying to think of creative ideas that we can address and solve the problem where it begins.”
Asked how he, Cassidy and Kihuen get their message across to colleagues in Congress that have never visited Central America, Gonzalez said:
“Central America is a tough issue, but sometimes it is not the most popular. I try to talk to my friends on (the) foreign affairs (committee), and certainly on the Hispanic Caucus. I had a fact-finding report that I sent up to them and when there are issues that impact those countries that we are going to vote on in the House, I certainly come to be a resource.”
Asked for his final thoughts on the visit to Guatemala, Gonzalez said:
“I think they have a lot of resources in their country, It is a very rich little country. But it has not really explored too many possibilities. For example, we were down in an area where the pyramids are. They have almost zero migration from that region because everyone is employed. There is another area called the Mirador Basin, with 51 lost Maya cities. It is an amazingly beautiful region that has billions of potential tourism dollars. I think we need to find some investment for that region so we can create employment and security. I think they have the resources. They just need to work a little harder with a better method.”
This spring, Gonzalez visited El Salvador with Catholic Charities’ Pimentel to “promote prosperity, bring security, and create additional educational, employment, and investment opportunities.”
Gonzalez said he is hopeful that continued engagement between each government, and private sector entities, will be beneficial to trade and economic growth in South Texas.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, and U.S. Reps. Vicente Gonzalez and Ruben Kihuen issued a news release with quotes about their visit to Guatemala and Mexico. Here are their comments:
“This visit proves that Members of Congress can close the divide on issues critical to the well-being of this nation. By establishing a neighborly rapport in Washington, Mexico, and Central America, we can strengthen trade agreements, create jobs, and tackle gang violence and drug trafficking to all of our mutual benefit.”
“Mexico and Guatemala are key partners in the global fight against drug trafficking, including the deadly opioids fueling the addiction epidemic in our neighborhoods. In our discussions I was able to stress the importance of their cooperation, and get a firsthand look at their efforts on the ground. We also talked about the impacts of illegal immigration and the need for greater security and strong borders. When it comes to trade, Louisiana sells billions of dollars worth of goods to Mexico, so I want to make sure that as NAFTA is renegotiated it is done so in a way that strengthens our trade relationship and provides even more benefits and opportunity to Louisiana workers.”
“Mexico and Guatemala are key allies to the United States. Strengthening our relationships with our southern neighbors is critical to our efforts to combat drug trafficking, reduce gang violence and ensure regional stability. We also must strengthen our trade agreements to ensure free and fair trade and create jobs for Nevada workers.”