Closing Statement by DHS Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen at V Meeting of Security Ministers of the Northern Triangle

Thank you again to everyone for joining us today. I’d like to again thank President Hernández and Minister Pacheco for graciously hosting us. I’d also like to thank my friends and colleagues, the Security Ministers of the Northern Triangle. Thank you again for your commitment to combat this serious humanitarian and security crisis facing our countries.

America shares common cause with you, as I said this morning and throughout the day. Together, we want to confront these challenges. We want to enforce our laws to ensure a safe and orderly migrant flow, to protect our communities, facilitate legal trade and travel, support vulnerable populations, interdict dangerous and illicit drug flow, and of course secure our borders.

Together, today I’m happy to report that we have recommitted to promote security and prosperity throughout the region. We will not allow dangerous irregular migration at the hands of smugglers and traffickers, which puts our communities and the migrants themselves in great danger. Which is why on behalf of the United States government, I’m proud to have signed the first-of-its-kind agreement with the Northern Triangle nations to combat human smuggling, trafficking, and transnational criminals, expand information and intelligence sharing, and strengthen border security.

We’ve agreed to ramp up our joint enforcement action against criminal networks and to enhance regional border security to prevent irregular migration that has put our region at risk. We’ve also agreed to do more, and this is important, to protect vulnerable populations – women, children, and families – to ensure that individuals legitimately fleeing persecution receive the protections they deserve as close to home as possible.

America leads the world in protecting vulnerable populations from persecution, but we will not and we cannot tolerate those who work to undermine our asylum laws and legal immigration process. I’m here today supporting this historic agreement because we recognize that this is a regional challenge and requires a regional solution.

Our collective system is at a breaking point. Bad actors and transnational criminal organizations are advertising their illegal services in order to smuggle thousands of migrants into America. This has led many vulnerable people to put themselves in harm’s way to make the dangerous journey north. For instance, currently 60 percent of all migrants that we interdict are families and unaccompanied children. Most of these families are from the Northern Triangle countries. This is in sharp contrast to the mostly single adult males DHS apprehended at our Southern border just a decade ago.

We desperately need a new approach to combat the new flow, to combat the transnational criminal organizations, and to protect vulnerable populations.

We are working to update our laws in the United States, but we also need to update our partnership and our joint approach.

The situation, my friends, and we have talked about this today, the situation, is simply heart breaking. Women are being sexually assaulted and the majority of migrants report that they experience violence on the dangerous trek.

We have even uncovered child “recycling rings” whereby criminals use innocent children multiple times to help aliens gain illegal entry into the United States by posing as a family. Smugglers and traffickers are forcing people into inhumane conditions. Criminals are using the situation to line their pockets while gangs are exploiting the current status-quo to bring in new recruits.

That is why we need this historic regional accord. We must tackle this crisis together.

We will strengthen air, land, and maritime security operations to limit the movement of transnational criminals who profit every day from human misery.

Border security must always be about national security and the protection of vulnerable populations. We are facing an emergency and our immigration system is at a near breaking point.

It is clear that the status-quo cannot continue. The time for action is now. So let me end by saying we are united, we are committed, we are operating jointly and our message to criminals is this: you will be caught, and you will be prosecuted.

While this agreement between our nations is a first of its kind, it is not a silver bullet to ending our shared migration crisis. The United States stands with our friends in the Northern Triangle and have always helped spur economic prosperity throughout the region. However, more must be done to combat this crisis, and the United States must see measurable improvements in the short term.

I also want to take a quick moment to thank the press that’s here today. I want to ask for your help to spread this message far and wide. You play a very vital role in telling the truth about criminal organizations and the dangers of uncontrolled and irregular migration.

And I want to be crystal clear on this, and I ask you to help me provide this message: transnational criminal organizations are not humanitarians. They have a complete disregard for human life and dignity. They are predators who commit severe abuse, extortion, assault, rape and murder, all for illicit profit.

Anyone considering taking the dangerous journey north should know that they are putting their families and children at serious risk.

I ask you, the media, to help protect these vulnerable populations by accurately reporting what these criminal organizations do to exploit Central Americans in their quest for profits.

I look forward to implementing this historic agreement and to further working with my counterparts here to help secure all of our nations and to end this crisis.

Together we will prevail.

Thank you, and thank you again, Minister, for hosting this very important day.