Legislation starts a conversation on immigration

A Guatemalan family prepares to eat dinner. Bread for the World.

By Sarah Butin

Legislation has been introduced in both chambers of Congress to address the poverty and, in recent years, the escalating violence in the Northern Triangle region — El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) introduced S.3106 (the Secure the Northern Triangle Act) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.-19) introduced its House counterpart, H.R.5850.

The Senate version of the bill acknowledges the role that hunger and poverty can play in driving migration and seeks to address these underlying factors as part of a comprehensive approach in the Northern Triangle. The full text of the House bill is not yet available.

For several years, Bread for the World has been advocating for legislation that responds to immigration “push” factors in the Northern Triangle. Many of the migrants stopped at the U.S. border are from the Northern Triangle. In 2014, there was a 75 percent increase from the previous year in the number of unaccompanied minors reaching the border. Almost three-quarters of the estimated 68,500 unaccompanied children who arrived, often dehydrated and malnourished, were from the Northern Triangle.

The “push” factors are violence and poverty so pervasive that parents resort to sending their children north alone. Northern Triangle countries are among the poorest and most food-insecure countries in Latin America. Guatemala has the region’s highest percentage of chronically undernourished children. Climate change and crop diseases have left rural communities extremely vulnerable, and thousands of farmers have been displaced.

Bread emphasizes how U.S. development assistance that is carried out in countries overseas can help reduce hunger and poverty and ease the pressures to leave home for the United States. The Secure the Northern Triangle Act takes this approach. It seeks to address the underlying causes of poverty and inequality and boost economic development. The bill stresses the importance of nutrition programs to reduce childhood stunting from micronutrient deficiencies, as well as the need to provide support and training for smallholder farmers to help them increase their productivity.

To date, U.S. policy on undocumented immigration along the border with Mexico has been focused on enforcement and deterrence. Most foreign assistance to Mexico is for military operations. Bread welcomes these bills as the start of a conversation on the root causes of undocumented immigration and on how improving nutrition and increasing opportunity can help. There has been no movement yet on either bill, but Bread will closely follow them and report on progress.

Sarah Butin is a government relations intern at Bread for the World.

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