July 11, 2018

Castro Questions State Department, USAID on Trump’s Latin America Policy

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WASHINGTON– Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and First Vice Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, had the following question and answer session with State Department’s Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau Kenneth H. Merten and USAID’s Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean Sarah-Ann Lynch at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing today on Trump’s Latin America policy:

Rep. Castro: “Thank you for your testimony today. Many Americans and many around the world have been shocked by the Trump Administration’s use of family separation—separating young kids from their parents—as a deterrent, what the Administration would consider a deterrent, to having people attempt to come here, including those who are seeking asylum, legally, to the United States.

“And a few weeks ago now, I was one of the Members of Congress who went down and visited two of the centers who are keeping these kids. One of them is what is called a “tender age shelter,” and it’s called Casa Presidente, in Brownsville, Texas.

“And myself, and Sheila Jackson Lee, and a few others held an 8-month-old named Roger, who had been separated from his family. The staff told us they believe that he came with his sister, because his mother had died. There was a 1-year-old girl named Leah who was also in the room with us.

“What role does the State Department play in the reunification of these young children?”

Ambassador Merten: “Sir, thanks for the question. As I believe I’ve said in earlier questions similar to this, we work in countries with our host governments. We work in places like Central America to try and eliminate the root causes of this—”

Rep. Castro: “—But I mean specifically. Because some of these parents have been deported now. Is the State Department involved if they’re back in the Northern Triangle countries and trying to get their kids back? Is the State Department involved at all? Because HHS is not in Guatemala or Honduras or El Salvador.”

Ambassador Merten: “I’ll be honest with you, I am not sure that our Consular officials are involved in that process. I can take that back and get you a clearer answer on that, but I’m not aware of that.”

Rep. Castro: “I hope that you will, and I’ll submit my question for the record, because I’d like to know if the State Department, that deals with other nations—and, of course, our domestic agencies here—whether they can represent to the American people that none of these children has died or been severely injured while in the custody of the United States government. That’s my question.

“I’d also like to echo the comments by Representative Engel, and also my colleague Congresswoman Torres, about CICIG and the work that it’s doing to fight corruption in Guatemala. And although I think it’s fair to always be critical of any organization and take a critical look, I think it’s important when we think about helping these countries get back on their feet, to make sure that we have an organization that’s trying to root out corruption and really restore the rule of law.

“Let me ask you this, because Congressman Kinzinger spoke a minute ago about making sure that countries fix the things that are wrong with themselves. And I agree. I think that the best antidote to having many people want to come to the United States who are undocumented, is to work with the nations to the South to make sure that the economies there are strong.

“But let me ask you: if you’re Mexico, and there is in the United States an incredible demand for drugs coming from the United States, what strategy is going to be successful to completely root out the trafficking of drugs to the United States, where you have a huge demand for it? And because Mexico is not Colombia, which obviously is in South America, but it’s basically got a 2,000-mile border with the United States.

“So in other words, it’s a centrally, geographically it’s a central country for drug trafficking routes. How do they combat that?”

Ambassador Merten: “This is not exactly an area that I have expertise. In terms of the domestic demand, my understanding is that the Administration is putting together policies to look at fentanyl and look at ways that we can reduce people’s use of these drugs.

“In terms of working with other countries, which is where we operate, the State Department, we have excellent cooperation with Mexico and with other countries in the region, including Colombia, to work with them to reduce the amount of these things that they produce, that they prosecute those who are responsible.

“We, as I mentioned earlier, we have this working group with the Mexicans on combatting, and Central Americans on combatting transnational criminal organizations. This is ongoing work, it’s important work, and we believe we’re hopeful that it will ultimately be successful.”

Rep. Castro: “And my last comment. The reason that I pose that questions is because as we try to help them figure this out, I think for them, if you’re a relatively poor nation where the rule of law is not what it should be, and there is incredible corruption, and you’ve got people who are not making much money, very poor, who are basically tempted to go into the drug trade, or be part of the drug trade, and there’s an incredible demand right up North for those drugs, the challenge of rooting that out is gigantic. I yield back.”

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