MS PORTER: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining this on-the-record call to discuss the Root Causes and Collaborative Migration Management Strategies of the Biden-Harris administration. Today, we are joined by Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya; Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle Ricardo Zuniga; Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Marta Youth; and [Senior Advisor to the] USAID Administrator and Executive Director of the USAID’s Northern Triangle Task Force Michael Camilleri to discuss these strategies.
Under Secretary Zeya will begin with introductory remarks, and then we’ll begin taking your questions. With that, I’ll turn it over to the under secretary.
UNDER SECRETARY ZEYA: Thank you, Jalina, and good afternoon. I am pleased to be here with my colleagues, Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle Ricardo Zuniga, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Marta Youth, and Senior Advisor to the USAID Administrator and Executive Director of USAID’s Northern Triangle Task Force Michael Camilleri.
As you all know, this administration has prioritized migration policy reform since President Biden’s first day in office. Today, the White House announced the launch of a comprehensive strategy to address the root causes of irregular migration from Central America and to humanely manage migration throughout North and Central America. I am happy to speak with you all today to provide a bit more detail on these two plans and the role of the U.S. Department of State in supporting this key White House priority.
The Root Causes Strategy focuses on five areas that address the underlying factors that cause people to leave behind their homes, their families, and their countries: first, addressing economic insecurity and inequality; second, combating corruption and supporting democratic governance; third, promoting respect for human rights, labor rights, and press freedom; fourth, countering and preventing violent crimes and human trafficking perpetrated by gangs and criminal networks; and fifth, combating sexual, gender-based, and domestic violence.
In tandem, the Collaborative Migration Management Strategy sets out eight concrete lines of action to build a regional framework for safe, orderly, and humane migration. These include stabilizing populations with acute needs, expanding access to international protection, protection in home countries, and temporary labor programs in the region while improving worker protections, assisting and reintegrating returned people, fostering secure and humane management of borders, strengthening regional public messaging on migration, and finally, expanding access to lawful pathways for protection and opportunity in the United States.
These two strategies are unique in that they’re collaborative efforts rooted in partnership. The Collaborative Migration Management Strategy is the first U.S. Government strategy to focus on strengthening cooperative efforts across North and Central America to humanely manage migration. In close cooperation with governments in the region, the United States will promote expanded access to legal pathways to protection, family reunification, and temporary labor opportunities.
Similarly, on the Root Causes Strategy, we’re working with civil society, the private sector, labor unions, regional governments, and international partners to advance more democratic, prosperous, and safe societies where people thrive economically and live, work, and learn in safety and dignity. We look forward to the support of local governments in the region on this strategy and the collaborative effort to ensure that the people of Central America enjoy opportunities to create the futures they desire for themselves and their families.
We all know this won’t be easy. Some of the setbacks we’ve witnessed in the region, especially in terms of governance and transparency, are examples of why this work is so important and why we must press forward to make change. Addressing these challenges is in the interest of the region and of the United States, and we will seek partners willing and committed to working with us to that end.
This is just a brief overview of some of the work we envision. Now, I’d like to turn it over to my colleagues, Deputy Assistant Secretary Marta Youth and Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle Ricardo Zuniga and Director of USAID’s Northern Triangle Task Force Michael Camilleri, who I’m sure will be happy to take your questions. Thank you.
Jalina, over to you.
MS PORTER: Thank you. We’re going to give these – everyone a minute to fill in, and if the operator can remind people how to opt in the Q&A, please.
OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, if you’d like to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your touchtone keypad. You may withdraw your question at any time by repeating the same command. If you’re using a speakerphone, we ask that you please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. Once again, if you have a question, please press 1 followed by 0 at this time. Also, please wait until your line has been opened in order to hear the entirety of your question.
Once again, if you’d like to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 at this time.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to the line of Suzanne Monyak, please.
QUESTION: Hi, this is Suzanne with Roll Call. Thank you, guys, so much for having the call. I had a question about some of the elements in the migration plan that were also emphasized on yesterday’s NSC call regarding creating pathways for protection in other countries outside of the U.S. I know that was something the Trump administration did to an extent with the asylum cooperation agreements, which I know the Biden administration has moved to rescind.
But I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the factors you guys are considering, with what countries who would be considered safe enough to be viable pathways for protection outside of the U.S., and sort of what has gone into those discussions when determining which countries to look at for that.
MS YOUTH: Thank you. This is Marta Youth responding to your question.
So in terms of – let me just clarify in terms of expanding access to international protection. When we talk about expanding access to protection in the region, what we’re really talking about is helping build and improve a national asylum systems. And so, for example, one of the big success stories which really doesn’t get a lot of press is the success story of Mexico’s asylum system. Mexico has a very – has a functioning asylum system. They have had, I think, the last statistics I saw was at the – in the beginning of June. They had over 40,000 people applying for application this year alone, and they have many offices throughout the country, and so forth.
And so this is – and Mexico is not alone in this. Guatemala has a nascent asylum system that is functioning. Costa Rica has been a generous host to refugees from Nicaragua and Venezuela and other countries. So there is international protection in the region, and helping support countries in their efforts to build that protection is really what the focus of this. It is not to be confused with the asylum cooperative agreements. Those were also discussed in Executive Order 14010, and they were discussed in terms of suspending and terminating them, which is what Secretary Blinken did very soon after the President signed that executive order. And so this is really part of the effort to make sure that people find protection closer to home.
MS PORTER: Does anyone else want to take a stab at answering that question before we move on to the next person?
Let’s go to the line of Teresa Welsch.
Hi there. Thanks for doing this call. Can you hear me?
UNDER SECRETARY ZEYA: Yes, we can.
QUESTION: Great. This is Teresa Welsh with Devex. I have a question about the USAID role in the strategy. Could you talk a little bit more about the role that U.S. foreign assistance will play in this? And thinking about development assistance as a migration deterrent, is that something that the missions in the Northern Triangle will really be focusing on? And how does the administration see U.S. foreign assistance helping to carry out this strategy? Thanks so much.
MR CAMILLERI: Sure. This is Michael Camilleri. I’m happy to take that. Just a clarification – when you say the strategy, you’re referring to the root causes strategy or the collaborative migration management strategy?
Okay. I’m not sure if we’re able to have a back-and-forth. So I’m going to assume this is related to the root causes strategy. Look, in terms of USAID’s role, we see it as absolutely integral to all five of the pillars that the under secretary outlined, whether it’s addressing economic insecurity and inequality, combating corruption and strengthening democratic governance, promoting respect for human rights, countering and preventing violence, as well as addressing sexual, gender-based, and domestic violence. So we have existing programming across all five of those pillars, and we are already embarking on a process to align and optimize both our current and future programming to the specific lines of effort that you’ve seen in the strategy.
So in terms of the funding that the administration has requested from Congress, certainly for Fiscal Year ’22, the majority of that will flow through USAID. So we see our role and the implementation of this as absolutely critical in collaboration with our State Department colleagues and those across the interagency.
In terms of the focus on addressing root causes of migration, I mean, clearly this is the – it’s the headline of the strategy. It’s one we’re fully embracing of. This – when we’re in Central America, this – what that means in practice is creating the conditions in collaboration with partners on the ground – whether it’s governments, or civil society, or faith-based groups, or the private sector – creating the conditions for Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Salvadorans to live a safe and stable and dignified life at home. And so some of this can sound a little bit semantic I think, depending on which angle you’re coming at it from. But ultimately, the endeavor to create the conditions where the citizens of these countries can envision a hopeful future for themselves in their home countries, which is what they want to do, is one that is entirely I think consistent, and of USAID’s mission, and one that we very much embrace.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to Matt Lee.
QUESTION: Hi there. Can you all here me? Hello?
UNDER SECRETARY ZEYA: Yes, we can hear you.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. So listen, I have a – kind of a pretty broad question, which has to do with: How different is the approach that you guys are taking today, the approach that was announced this morning, compared to what the Obama administration was doing? And how – what would you see are the main differences in this approach to what the previous administration was doing? Thank you.
MR ZUNIGA: Michael, if you like, you can go ahead and take this question.
MR CAMILLERI: Sure. Thanks, Ricardo. And thank you for the question.
So certainly there are some parallels, and we’re dealing with the same region, so that’s natural. But I would boil down the differences to three things – strategy, scale, and sustainability – and I’ll try to run through those fairly succinctly. But from a strategic perspective, this new root causes strategy reflects a deep and comprehensive and updated analysis of the most pressing issues in the region. We are learning from what’s worked well in the past and what’s worked not so well. We’re using data increasingly to strategically target our programs to reach the people most likely to migrate and the places that they’re most likely to migrate from.
So while we’re continuing to focus on economic growth, on security and governance, particularly on anti-corruption, we’re also redoubling our efforts to combat gender-based violence and mitigate the impacts of climate change, which are both leading drivers of irregular migration.
As we move into implementation, we’re also thinking hard not just about what we do, but how we do it, and that includes with a view towards partnering more closely with local organizations in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, who know the needs of their communities the best.
In terms of scale, of course we are increasing the scale of these efforts. President Biden and Vice President Harris have made addressing the root causes of irregular migration one of their top priorities. This is certainly reflected in the President’s intention to request $4 billion for U.S. Government programs in Central America over the next four years. So clearly the scale of this budgetary request reflects both the President’s commitment to Central America and his conviction in this new strategic framework that we’re launching today.
And then finally, we are focused on the long term. We recognize that the chronic challenges in the region will take sustained commitment. We’re dedicated to being a good partner for the people of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. And at the same time, we recognize that development assistance is not a panacea. We are, for this reason, seeking new partnerships – including with the private sector, with civil society, and with faith-based groups – to ensure that our work can have a lasting impact on those we seek to serve.
And this focus on sustainability also explains why governance is so central to our approach. And I’m sure Ricardo will speak to this as well, but we recognize that effective democratic governance is necessary for long-term prosperity and stability. Success ultimately in this region will require the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to govern in a transparent, accountable, and inclusive manner.
So our assistance can be catalytic; it can in some cases galvanize political will. But it will not replace the responsibility that Central American governments have to their own people, and our focus on strengthening democratic governance, transparency, and accountability very much reflects this.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to Rebecca Martin – or Morin, I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you so much for holding this call. I have a question on the protests happening in Guatemala right now, after the top anti-corruption leader was dismissed last week. How does this affect the Biden administration’s plan to address corruption in the region as part of the root causes strategy?
MR ZUNIGA: Thank you for that question. This is Ricardo Zuniga at the Department of State. So the protests today and the public response rejecting the removal of the special prosecutor against impunity is very much a reflection of the deep importance that the citizens of Central America place on having good governance, at having accountability, and ensuring that the problems around corruption are addressed. Because it has an impact in the daily lives of Central Americans. And our view, the reason that we’re so focused on issues around governance and corruption, is specifically because it undermines what we believe is the most important thing that we can do to address the problems that are driving irregular migration, and that’s absence of opportunity, the lack of opportunity. What we hear from civil society, from public sector – people in the public sector, and from people in the private sector, is that, as was stated earlier, people prefer to remain at home, but the inability of people, families, and companies to make investments in Central America are often – those desires are thwarted by the lack of juridical certainty, by the lack of confidence that there is a level playing field for all the actors involved.
And so it is a very basic objective to support those in the region in – whether public sector employees, whether government officials, whether people in civil society, or whether people in the private sector – who are trying to achieve greater transparency and see the full realization of the rule of law in Central America as a base from which to grow. So that’s why we backed the people who are working to combat corruption so strongly. That prosecutor that you mentioned was cited by – was mentioned by the Secretary of State, Secretary Blinken, as a champion of anti-corruption earlier this year, and that is yet another reason why the United States came strongly to his defense when this action was taken last week.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to Shaun Tandon.
QUESTION: Hi there. Thanks for doing the call. Can I follow up a little bit on Guatemala? The president is out now saying that – Giammattei – saying that it’s counterproductive to suspend cooperation with the Public Ministry. Could you talk a little bit about that, specifically about the balance between cooperation and sending a signal? I mean, is there any risk of impeding cooperation if you do act because of this – these concerns on corruption?
And just a side issue as well: I know that part of the strategy is working with the private sector. Could you perhaps talk a little bit more about how you plan to do that? Is that something that the government can have a role in in terms of encouraging it? How do you expect to get more of the private sector interested in expanding economic opportunities there? Thank you.
MR ZUNIGA: So thank you. This is Ricardo Zuniga. In that same statement, President Giammattei thanked the United States for the support they’d provided to the Public Ministry, and indeed, we provide that support because we believe that, number one, we have a number of shared law enforcement challenges, but the United States also made important investments in expanding access to justice in Guatemala, in expanding the work of the special prosecutor to deal not only with issues related to corruption and organized crime, but also issues like gender-based violence, which is an important driver of irregular migration but also a very – unfortunately, a serious social scourge in Guatemala.
At the same time, the Biden administration made clear that we are prepared to work with those who are prepared to work with us in combating corruption and promoting efforts to combat impunity. And what we saw in this case was that we had to pause our cooperation with the Public Ministry while we reviewed that cooperation to ensure that it aligned with our objective of supporting those who are combating corruption. We made very clear in our response that we had lost confidence in the attorney general as a partner in the effort to combat corruption. The – there were serious questions about the decision to remove a person who was known for having taken a very strong stand against this.
So certainly we share with Guatemala and Guatemalan citizens and the Guatemalan people a very strong interest in ensuring that we are able to lead secure lives and that we’re dealing with shared security concerns. And so we need to make sure that we are using our resources in a way that advances that effort, and we look forward to continuing to do that in Guatemala.
With regard to the private sector, what we find is that there is great eagerness to take advantage of the advantages in Central America. Very often we talk about these challenges that we’re facing for a very good reason, but CAFTA-DR countries, of which Guatemala and the rest of Central America are a part, they are the third-largest U.S. market in the Americas, and that’s under very difficult conditions. So we have an interest as the United States in increasing the ability of our trade partners to in fact provide for their citizens but also create opportunities and help drive opportunities in the United States.
So what we find is that our work with the private sector is very focused on what has been identified by the private sector as impediments to investment. The first, I mentioned, which was constraints to growth related to governance and the need for judicial certainty, and the need for regulatory certainty, but also the need for investments in human resources, in human capital, where the United States is eager to assist; the need to work together to ensure that the United States, for example, as we pursue enhancements in our supply chains, are making the greatest advantage of markets and producers nearest the United States.
So there is – there are many reasons that we believe the private sector is an extremely important partner, not the least of which, as Michael mentioned – U.S. assistance is meant to enable, create – help create enabling conditions. It’s not meant to substitute for the growth generated by the private sector. We know that the best way to create opportunity is to allow citizens to be able to use their own potential and to allow the private sector, both national and international, to help generate the opportunities for people to lead successful lives at home.
MS PORTER: And we’ll take a final question from Daphne Psaledakis.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. I just have a quick question on Title 42 policy. Do you have an update on when the order could be lifted for families or in its entirety?
MS YOUTH: This is Marta Youth. This is actually a DHS policy question, but as far as we’re aware, there is no change to DHS policy or operations related to their enforcement of the Title 42 order. It is a public health authority of the CDC, so it’s not really an immigration authority. Over.
MS PORTER: That concludes today’s call. Thank you all for joining, and I hope you have a great rest of your week.
UNDER SECRETARY ZEYA: Thanks so much, everyone.