U.S. officials have neglected the rise of drug trafficking and transnational criminal groups in Latin America for so long that the problem has now reached America’s southern border, creating a humanitarian crisis and raising the costs of any U.S. response, a leading U.S lawmaker and experts said on Tuesday.
Rep. Matt Salmon (R., Ariz.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) that the United States “has been AWOL in the hemisphere all together, not just in the war on drugs.” The most recent indication is the surge in young immigrant children crossing the U.S. border, where between 60,000 and 80,000 children are expected to seek safe haven this year.
Parents who entered the country illegally are now encouraging their children to join them and flee an epidemic of gang and drug violence in Central American countries such as El Salvador and Honduras, according to reports.
“We have to do everything we possibly can to stabilize these countries through trade, security, fighting against narcotraffickers,” Salmon said.
“They love their countries,” he added. “They’re leaving because they’re frightened or they can’t put food on the table, or both.”