The Biden administration appointed a special envoy Monday to help oversee its efforts to stem the ongoing influx of Central American migrants to the U.S. southern border as it faces bipartisan pressure to address the surge.
The White House remained adamant Monday that the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border is “not a crisis” despite photos and videos showing otherwise.
Still, the Biden administration found it necessary to create a new position to help its effort to contain the flood of illegal migrants reaching the United States, particularly unaccompanied children. The U.S. State Department, which will oversee the new envoy, described the move as a high priority.
Biden officials tapped Ricardo Zúñiga to serve as a special envoy for the Northern Triangle, a region comprised of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Those three countries have long been the source of a significant portion of illegal migration to the United States.
Last week, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele told Fox News soaring migration levels at the southern border are bad for the U.S. and even worse for Latin America because it extracts the people vital to building the solid financial conditions that would keep them in their home country.
Bukele suggested that current U.S. immigration policies are incentivizing Salvadorans to head to the United States.
Jalina Porter, a spokesperson at State, told reporters Monday:
The special envoy will advise the secretary and acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, coordinate closely with the National Security Council, and oversee the department’s comprehensive effort to manage regional migration and address the root causes of migration.
Zúñiga will engage with governments and non-governmental organizations in the region, including but not limited to Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, on improving conditions in Central America to keep potential migrants in their home country, Porter explained, adding:
[He will also] hold government actors accountable to their commitments to address root causes of migration and to address the increase in arrivals of unaccompanied children at the U.S. southern border. He will also keep congress apprised of our efforts. This is one of our highest priorities.
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In a statement announcing the new appointment, the State Department stressed that Zúñiga would help oversee “the administration’s comprehensive efforts to stem irregular migration to the United States.”
He will also help implement Biden’s multi-year, $4 billion measure to address root causes of why people leave Central America.
Congress has yet to approve the $4 billion effort, “a potentially difficult process as Biden’s immigration bill faces opposition in both chambers,” the Hill noted.
In 2019, El Salvador’s president said he favors jumpstarting private commerce between the United States and El Salvador and improving conditions to prevent Salvadorans from leaving over U.S.-taxpayer-funded foreign aid “handouts.”
Unlike the previous administration, the Biden administration prohibits press requests to visit the detention centers and overcrowded processing centers holding children to take pictures or tour the facilities.
Some videos and photos have recently surfaced on social media, courtesy of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and James O’Keefe. The videos and photos show the deplorable, overcrowded conditions of migrant children held in South Texas, with kids forced to sleep on floor mats amid a worsening humanitarian crisis.
Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and others who visited the border recently, have stressed the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border is nothing short of heartbreaking.
Addressing the Hispanic American community, some Latino Republican lawmakers have emphasized that the surge fuels child sex trafficking and forced labor, and many girls are raped on their dangerous journey up north.
At the height of a similar surge of unaccompanied children in June 2018, the Trump administration allowed the media and Congress members to tour the facilities holding the kids, giving Democrats the opportunity to criticize the former president’s immigration policy.
Leftist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) went as far as accusing former President Trump of running “concentration camps” at the border and locking children in “cages.” She has remained mostly quiet during the ongoing crisis.
A career member of the senior foreign service, “Zúñiga has served in a number of posts in Latin America and also served as senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council under former President Obama,” the Hill pointed out.
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