Opening Remarks by Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen at Meeting with Northern Triangle Governments

Buenos días y muchas gracias. It is a pleasure to be here with you today, and I’d like to thank first President Hernández for his hospitality, for hosting this historic meeting, and for his continued leadership and partnership throughout the region. I look forward to a very productive and collaborative discussion today and, most importantly, I am eager to sign this historic Memorandum of Cooperation.

I would also like to thank my colleagues, my friends, seated here next to me, Minister Pacheco, Minister Degenhart and Minister Landaverde for your invitation to join this, and the previous Security Ministerial Meetings. I also want to thank you for your hard work, for those and all of your ministerial delegations over the last year.

Your leadership in hosting a series of Secretarial Ministerial Meetings and pushing for new ways to strengthen regional law enforcement and border security cooperation is critical to the success of all of our countries, and I thank you.

Make no mistake; however, together we are facing an unprecedented regional crisis. In February alone, the Department of Homeland Security of the United States interdicted over 75,000 migrants crossing our Southern border. By the end of this month, our projections show we are very likely to interdict close to 100,000 migrant crossings in one month.

I share with you that the United States has gone from facing a crisis, to an emergency, to the almost complete shattering of our system. I am very concerned, and we must do more.

The difference between now and years past is in the actual composition of the flow of the migrants. Today, the majority of the flow consists of vulnerable populations, families and children, whereas previously it consisted of single adults who could be quickly processed and, when appropriate, removed to their home countries.

The numbers and backlog are increasing exponentially, such that DHS is having a difficult time providing the needed humanitarian support. This is most acute when supporting children who are arriving sicker than ever before at our borders. Today, DHS is worried about the immediate threats to life and safety of the migrants we come in contact with.

I am also concerned and share the Ministers’ concerns about traffickers, smugglers, and transnational criminal organizations, or TCOs, all of whom prey on these vulnerable populations and lead them on a very dangerous journey north. Make no mistake, my friends, TCOs have no concern for human lives. They are solely motivated by profit, and they are a significant and persistent threat to our collective security.

Yet while I am concerned about all of these threats, I also remain optimistic because together we have common cause. We all want to reinforce our laws to ensure safe and orderly migrant flow, to protect our communities, to facilitate legal trade and travel, to support vulnerable populations to interdict dangerous and illicit drugs, and to secure our borders.

Together we have committed to promoting security and prosperity throughout our region. We must do more to protect the vulnerable populations, families, and children and ensure that individuals legitimately fleeing persecution receive the protections they deserve as close to home as possible and as soon as possible.

We must continue joint enforcement actions against the criminal networks who are fueling the crisis, and we must deepen information sharing so that we can identify dangerous individuals in the flows, and finally we must enhance regional border security to prevent irregular migration.

And as we work together, the United States, I commit to you, will be your trusted partner helping to provide support for the capacity and humanitarian assistance needed to tackle this crisis.

As we implement the Memorandum that we will sign today, smugglers and traffickers will no longer be able to profit from human misery. We will not allow for the exploitation of vulnerable populations, together we will defeat lawlessness.

For the United States, this agreement will allow us to utilize support from the full range of authorities and resources, from my Department, as well as the Departments of Justice and State and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The documents we’ll sign today provide a mechanism that will enable us to better synchronize all of our efforts and focus directly on the core issues President Hernández and the Minister described:
– Human trafficking and smuggling.
– Combating transnational criminal organizations and gangs.
– Expanding information and intelligence sharing, and
– Strengthening air, land and maritime border security.

I also look forward to discussing additional areas today where we can enhance our partnership.

I’m here today knowing that our efforts represent a historic step of partnership to address this unprecedented crisis. It is ours to face and ours to solve together.

Rest assured that our work does not stop here. We must act with vigilance and dedication to rapidly implement this agreement that protects our people, ensures safe and legal migration, and secures our borders.

Again, thank you Minister very much for hosting, and to my colleagues, thank you very much for your extraordinary work towards these goals.