THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. On behalf of the Foreign Press Center, I would like to welcome you to this afternoon’s briefing. My name is Jed Wolfington and I will be the moderator for today’s briefing. It’s good to see many familiar faces in the room.
So our speakers today are two distinguished guests from the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security. Our first speaker will be Marta Youth. Marta is the principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration at the Department of State. And our second briefer is Blas Nuñez-Neto. Blas serves as the assistant secretary for Border and Immigration Policy at the Department of Homeland Security. They will be discussing the U.S. Government’s current policies with respect to migration and border security.
Just a reminder that this discussion is on the record and will be posted on our website later in the day along with the transcript – fpc.state.gov. So now I would like to invite Marta Youth to share opening remarks. Marta.
MS YOUTH: Good afternoon. Forced displacement in the Western Hemisphere has reached historic highs. One hundred million people are forcibly displaced globally; of those, 20 million are in the Western Hemisphere. Migration impacts on every country in the region, and no one country can provide solutions for millions of displaced people on their own.
Addressing the challenges of irregular migration, providing protection to refugees and asylum seekers, and offering legal migration pathways are key priorities for this administration. We’ve been working on safe, orderly, and humane migration management from day one of the administration. We’ve brought countries together at the Summit of the Americas, where 21 countries endorsed the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection. Countries are stepping up to do things that they weren’t doing before, but in coordination to help all of us respond to the challenges around migration in the hemisphere.
What we are seeing now is that people are making use of lawful pathways – parole processes, family reunification, existing labor pathways. We’ve led the expansion of legal pathways, and now we are establishing new rules to direct people to use those pathways instead of making the dangerous journey to try to enter irregularly.
One of the several innovative measures the U.S. Government has announced is Regional Processing Centers. These will provide easier access to protection and other lawful pathways. Once they are operational, these centers will make it easier for migrants to access lawful pathways from where they are and avoid putting them – their lives and their life savings into the hands of criminal actors.
So on May 11th, our international partners launched the website – it’s called movilidadsegura.org. We can circulate that. It’s available in English, Spanish, and Creole. This is an important step towards operationalizing the Regional Processing Centers initiative. The website contains information on processes that will be available and will be updated regularly as new pathways come online and the initiative rolls out. Migrants will be – soon be able to use the site to also request appointments for pre-screening at regional centers. This site will also eventually be updated to provide information on regular pathways to Spain and to Canada that will be accessible in the future. It’s important to note that the site and the services provided through the initiative are free, and this is really important in the region, where criminal actors sometimes get between legal, free options and insert themselves. So again, the website is movilidadsegura.org.
The United States has committed to considering thousands of additional individuals per month from the Western Hemisphere for resettlement through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. We welcomed six times as many refugees from Latin American and the Caribbean in 2022 as during the previous year, and we’re on track to more than double those arrivals in Fiscal Year ’23. We’re currently processing refugee admissions cases in 19 countries in the region, and we’re doing it – refugee resettlement – faster through innovative, streamlined approaches.
We are the largest provider of humanitarian assistance worldwide, and that stands in the Western Hemisphere. In the last two years, the United States provided more than $2.4 billion in humanitarian assistance across the Western Hemisphere and 2.1 billion in development, economic, and health assistance.
But no one country can provide solutions for millions of displaced people on its own, as I said at the top, so we really work closely with governments, civil society, international organizations, multilateral development banks, the private sector, and other partners to help provide protection and options to people fleeing persecution or torture, to address the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement, and to manage migration humanely. Our efforts complement the generous efforts of host countries throughout this region who are offering refuge to those in need.
Turn it over to Blas.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NUÑEZ-NETO: Great, thank you, Marta, and thanks, everybody, for being here today. I’m going to provide a quick update on our operations along our southwest border with Mexico, and before I do that, though, I do just want to lay out that over the last two years, this administration has put forward a new approach to managing migration at our border and throughout the region. As Marta noted, we have overseen the most significant
expansion in lawful pathways for people to come to the United States in many decades as a result of our efforts to try to incentivize intending migrants to use safe, orderly, and lawful pathways to come to the United States.
But we also recognize that for those who are unwilling to take advantage, to wait where they are, and really use these lawful pathways, there need to be consequences at our land border. And so we have over the last two years really expanded our use of expedited removal, and we are also implementing at the border a new rule which we think places some commonsense conditions on eligibility for asylum for individuals who do not take advantage of these lawful pathways that we have expanded.
As everyone knows, last Friday morning, the public health emergency in this country expired, and with it we stopped implementing Title 42 at the land border, which was an emergency public health measure. We are back now to processing all non-citizens encountered at our border under our traditional Title 8 authorities. In the runup to the lifting of Title 42, we did experience a substantial surge in unlawful crossings, averaging more than 10,000 encounters a day the three days leading up to the lifting of Title 42.
Since Title 42 has been lifted, however, we have seen a substantial decrease in unlawful crossings at the border and irregular migration, averaging less than half that many encounters or less than 5,000 a day over the last three days. It is still early, though, and we are mindful that smugglers will continue to look ways – look for ways to take advantage of changes in border policies to weaponize disinformation and drive migration through the region. And as my colleague, Marta, just explained, it’s also important to note that while Title 42 has ended, the conditions that are causing this historic movement of people throughout our hemisphere have not changed.
We are and will continue to work extremely closely with all of our partners in the region to both provide protection for migrants who needed enhanced access to lawful pathways but also to enforce migration laws and borders throughout the region. Our partners in Mexico and Guatemala are currently deploying personnel to their own southern borders to try to manage the movement of people north, and in Colombia and Panama those two governments are engaged in a historic effort right now to attack human smuggling networks in the Darien who prey on migrants and put their lives at risk for profit.
Our focus here at DHS remains the same as it has been for the last two years. We are committed to processing people in a safe, orderly, and humane manner, but also quickly delivering consequences to those who do not have a legal basis to remain in the United States. And I do want to recognize the frankly outstanding efforts of our men and women on the front lines from the U.S. Border Patrol and the Office of Field Operations at CBP who have really responded to the very difficult situation on our border over the last couple weeks with unmatched professionalism.
Since Friday, individuals who cross the border unlawfully are now being subject to the Circumvention of Lawful Pathways rule that I mentioned at the beginning, and that rule
essentially places what we believe are some commonsense conditions on eligibility for asylum for individuals who do not take advantage of these significantly expanded lawful pathways that we have grown over the last two years; who do not register for a safe and orderly presentation at a port of entry through the CBP One mobile application, which is allowing us to process three to four times as many individuals who are undocumented at our land border ports of entry as we were able to prior to the pandemic; and obviously who do not claim asylum in one of the countries that they traveled through.
Those individuals will be subject to what we are calling a rebuttable presumption of asylum ineligibility, but it is rebuttable and that means it can be overcome. So this is not a bar on asylum but rather a condition that individuals can overcome if they have compelling reasons why they couldn’t take advantage of the lawful pathways that we have extended.
What we have seen over the last few days as we transition from Title 42 to Title 8 processing is really the results of nearly two years of preparation and a whole-of-government approach as we return to regular order at the border, even as we continue to operate within the confines of a broken and hopelessly outdated immigration and asylum system that has not been updated in decades. We continue to make this message loud and clear that there are lawful pathways available. We have significantly expanded them, and individuals who despite that choose to cross unlawfully will be subject to new consequences only to spend a lot of money putting your lives at danger to be returned home.
I’d like to just quickly provide you some updates on what we’ve seen on our border since last Friday. So since Friday, hundreds of non-citizens, including nationals of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua, have been returned to Mexico using our Title 8 authorities. This is the first time that the Government of Mexico has accepted returns of non-Mexican nationals at our land border under Title 8 processes, and that has been working well over the last few days. We have removed thousands – removed and repatriated thousands of non-citizens, including single adults and families, to more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Honduras, and Peru. Thousands more are currently being held in CBP – Customs and Border Protection – and Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities going through the asylum process and our expedited removal process.
We have surged hundreds of asylum officers to conduct interviews – what we call credible fear interviews – of those individuals. This is the largest deployment of asylum officers to conduct these interviews, particularly over a weekend, in our history. And individuals who do not establish a legal, valid basis to remain in the United States will be removed. And under our Title 8 processing, those removals carry with them significant consequences that were not in place under Title 42, and that includes a five-year ban on re-entry to the United States and the potential for criminal prosecution if somebody re-enters.
Looking forward to the coming days and weeks, we continue to manage encounters at the border without losing our focus on the safety and security of non-citizens in our custody, our personnel on the front lines, and our communities. There are some developments that we are following very closely. One of them is the way that smugglers continue to, like I said,
weaponize changes in policy and misinformation in order to drive migration. We are working extremely closely with our Department of State colleagues as well as our foreign partners to try to counter that disinformation and message the facts, right, which are that the border is not open and there are consequences – new and strengthened consequences – for people who cross unlawfully at our border.
And second, we continue to be concerned about the impact of litigation, frankly, from both directions on our ability to execute this plan. There – these harmful rulings, particularly the Florida ruling regarding our ability to process individuals in an expedited manner when our facilities are dangerously overcrowded, means that our agents on the ground may not have the rule – the tools they need to decompress our facilities, especially when they get overcrowded. This is dangerous for migrants in our care but also for our workforce. And it also threatens to degrade our ability to operate effectively on the border. We will be contesting that litigation in court.
And I know I’ve said this before, but we’ve seen these surges in migration now for going on two decades. They have occurred under presidents of both political parties. Presidents of both parties have used executive action to try to address the challenges they have faced on the borders. We have as well, and we’re committed to doing so in an innovative way to address this challenge. But we are clear-eyed that there really is no lasting solution here that does not involve our U.S. Congress coming together in a bipartisan way to once and for all update our broken and outdated immigration and asylum system.
So just in conclusion, we believe our approach is a commonsense one that recognizes that migrants will wait to come to the United States and won’t place their lives in the hands of smugglers if we make lawful pathways available and easily accessible. But we also recognize that there must be significant consequences in place for those who do not wait and who cross unlawfully.
The situation on the border continues to be very fluid and is continuously evolving, and we are monitoring what’s happening in real time. And we recognize that our plan that this model that we have put forward will take time to yield the results we know it will have, but we are confident it will deliver over time.
And with that, I will conclude there, and I’m happy to take your questions. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you for the remarks. Just a reminder for the people in the room asking questions, please be so kind as to state your name, your outlet, and where you are from. We have a gentleman in the front row here.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
MODERATOR: A microphone will come to you.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. I’m Jose Diaz with Reforma Newspaper from Mexico. For Blas I have a question. Earlier today, you mentioned that there were 2,400 returns to Mexico over the past three days. Are you referring specifically to Venezuelan (inaudible) and Cubans and Nicaraguans, or are you adding also Mexicans in that front?
And a quick second question is: What’s your understanding of the operations that Mexico is implementing in its southern border? Because we haven’t seen any formal announcement from the Mexican Government of these operations.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NUÑEZ-NETO: Yeah, great question. So our returns to Mexico includes all nationalities that we have returned to Mexico over the last few days. And in terms of – excuse me – the Mexican Government’s southern border operation, I would really have to refer you to the Government of Mexico to brief on what they are doing. But we have seen what we believe is a robust effort on their southern border.
QUESTION: So Mexicans are also included in that number, 2,400?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NUÑEZ-NETO: That’s right. Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Jose for the question. We have someone in the row behind Jose.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for this briefing. I’m Stefanie Bolzen from the German newspaper Die Welt. Two quick questions.
First, could you please explain the reality of – because the condition of migrants is – if that – if they cross a country where they could actually apply for asylum, they should do so, so logically they have to apply in Mexico; is that right? Could you just explain what theoretically needs to be done?
And secondly, I was in Ciudad Juárez last week, and there were reports – and other agencies also reported – that migrants were across the borders – the border and were immediately sent back without being allowed to do the asylum process. That’s – in the eyes of human rights activists, that’s illegal. Could you comment on that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NUÑEZ-NETO: Sure. So in general, individuals seeking protection ought to seek protection in the country closest to the country that they are leaving from. And so in our hemisphere, we see migrants crossing not just Mexico but a number of countries on their way north, and that includes Panama, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica. And so we believe migrants ought to be claiming – looking for protection in those countries as they travel north. And I would note, and I’d defer to my colleague from the State Department, but many of those countries have significantly improved their asylum and refugee processing in recent years.
In terms of the second question, I believe you’re referencing expulsions under Title 42 at the border. And under our law, Title 42 takes precedence over Title 8 processing. I can see you shaking your head. So maybe – can you restate —
QUESTION: No, after. That was on Friday, so after the Title 8 had already kicked in.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NUÑEZ-NETO: So once Title 8 kicks in, all individuals we encounter have an opportunity to claim asylum at the border. They will be processed through our Title 8 process for – which we call expedited removal, if they do claim a fear, and their claim will be evaluated. However, we are also implementing this new Circumvention of Lawful Pathways Rule that places some, as I noted, what we believe to be commonsense conditions on the ability to claim asylum for individuals who do not use the lawful pathways. Many of the individuals that you would have seen returned on Friday were probably voluntarily returning to Mexico.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Stefanie, for the question. We’re going to go to Zoom, Dori Tobio from Mediaset Spain. Dori, I’m going to invite you to unmute yourself. You have your hand raised in the Zoom room. Okay, we’re having a technical difficulty with Dori. We’ll come back to Dori.
Marta, was there anything you wanted to add to any of these questions in response?
MS YOUTH: I’m fine.
MODERATOR: Okay, great. So then I will go to the Zoom chat and I will take a question from Mouctar Balde from Guinéenews. Mouctar writes: “For those coming as far – from as far as Africa and Asia, how are you going to deal with applicants claiming refugee status already in neighboring Latin American countries?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NUÑEZ-NETO: Can you restate the last part of that question?
MODERATOR: Sure. How will you – “how are you going to deal with applicants claiming refugee status already in neighboring Latin American countries?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NUÑEZ-NETO: So if I’m – I’m not sure I totally follow that question, but I would just say a couple things. I think one is that the – the rule that was implemented on Friday will apply to everybody who is encountered entering between ports of entry or seeking to enter at a port of entry without using our CBP One mobile application to schedule their arrival or who is encountered in the interior of the United States, and it doesn’t matter what country they are from. As I’ve noted, one of the exceptions to the rule is if an individual has claimed asylum in a country that they transited on their way to the United States and they are denied asylum in that country, they can then be excepted from the presumption and they would be processed under a normal asylum process in the Untied States.
MODERATOR: Thank you. And I’m going to go back to Dori’s question. If you can unmute yourself, Dori, please do. I see that you’re unmuted.
QUESTION: Now I can. Thank you so much. Regarding the Regional Processing Centers, the U.S. Government has an agreement with Spain and Canada – and that was mentioned here just before – to cooperate on asylum processing. Can you please give us some specifics about what exactly are these countries going to do? And specifically about Spain, how many asylum requests is Spain going to process? Thanks.
MS YOUTH: Thanks for the question, Dori. So right now we are in the process of having discussions with the two countries as well as the host countries of the Regional Processing Centers. Essentially when we rolled out this concept and had discussions with partner nations, they – I think partner nations were intrigued by this. And part of this is that getting people to – incentivizing migrants and refugees to utilize legal pathways has been part of our challenge, right. Because there’s nothing sadder than knowing that somebody has taken a perilous journey – as you know, people are moving through the Darien as well in the region on the way north, and so many people have put themselves in really very life-threatening situations. And what we would like to do, and the whole point of these processing centers, is to make sure that people understand what the legal path – the lawful pathways are, what the options are for them. And if that is a protection pathway, like refugee processing, to have them be able to access that closer to home, closer to where they are, rather than to take this perilous, perilous journey to the border.
In terms of numbers with Canada or with Spain, I don’t have those specifics, and we’re really not there. I think those two governments were very intrigued by the processing center idea, the idea that people will be incentivized to access lawful pathways, that they will be incentivized to find information closer to home, and have actual – these are international organizations who will be running these processing centers. And so to have a reputable voice who can explain, specialists who can explain to them how to access pathways. In some instances I think people – that space has been ceded to coyotes and smugglers. And so this is a way to get information and to expand the access so that people can be able to move safely and know early on what their possibilities are.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Dori, for the question. We have a question in the front row here. The gentleman, if you want.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Mounzer Sleiman with Al Mayadeen Network, based in Beiruit, Lebanon. But I’m going to ask you a question from personal experience, and not related to the asylum situation – related to the normal process, legal pathway. Can you give us an idea about how long it takes after a family reunification case, being all the documentation are approved by the National Visa Center, how long it should take for a reasonable period between that time and the time that an interview will be scheduled? I have very specific question related to the embassy in Egypt, that at least a case that I’m very familiar with, there is about three months passed and they have not even attempted to schedule appointment. And there is no reason being given except that to wait, we’ll tell you when. I mean, it’s a matter of scheduling appointment. They could look at the calendar for this year, for next year, for year after, whatever, and they could put that schedule.
So when we compare between the people who try the legal pathway and the people who – we see the focus is more on the people who are trying the illegal way, while the legal way is not really being reformed to the level of satisfaction. What’s your – can you be specific about the period that normally it should take between the National Visa Center and the appointment for people in that case, situation? Thank you.
MS YOUTH: Thank you. So there’s different – there’s different processes, right. So a family reunification – I don’t know if you meant for a refugee process or if you meant family reunification for an immigrant visa, right. And so these are all – these are different things. But – so let me just very quickly touch on refugee processing, because refugee resettlement over the years has taken a long time to process, to adjudicate somebody who is referred for – as a refugee from an international organization and to move them through the process. And one of the things that as a result of the processing of so many refugees from Afghanistan is that we have streamlined and made the refugee processing process amazingly more efficient and concentrated. And so part of the benefit, part of the reason that Regional Processing Centers are possible now is that the amount of time that it takes to process somebody for refugee resettlement has been truncated.
In terms of family reunification, I am not familiar with that part of the world. I’m focused a lot on the Western Hemisphere. But I will tell you that there’s actually excellent news in the Western Hemisphere on family reunification, and actually I should – my colleague here is the expert on it, but the – and I’ll cede to you, Blas, in a sec. But essentially that we have – the U.S. Government has rolled out a number of family reunification – has opened up family reunification for Central America and for – and shortly for Colombia that will also allow people whose visas have been – are – whose visa numbers are, like, way in the future to allow them to enter the United States through an expedited process. So I’ll cede to Blas on family reunification.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NUÑEZ-NETO: Sure. Thank you, Marta. The issuance of visas is obviously a State Department function. What we have done through our family reunification parole programs – which began for nationals of Cuba and Haiti and we have announced we are expanding to Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Colombia in the coming weeks – is create a process where nationals from those countries who are waiting for their follow-to-join immigrant visas to be issued can actually come to the United States early, be paroled in, and finish the process while they are in the United States. But I’d have to defer to the State Department, sir, for your questions about the process in Egypt.
MODERATOR: Thank you for the question. In the room, we’re going to go to the back row. The gentleman in the blue shirt.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this today. I’m Roku Goda for Japanese national newspaper, Asahi Shimbun. Let me give us the updates on the lawsuits. How many lawsuits are there, and what kind of action that the U.S. Government plan to take? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NUÑEZ-NETO: Yeah, that’s a good question. So I will say that we are – there’s a lot of lawsuits in the immigration space. And we have been, frankly, sued from the left and the right for different parts of the approach that we have put forward to manage these challenging flows to our southwest border. I think the two that have gotten most attention in recent days are a lawsuit in Florida that has restricted us from using what we call our parole authority to process individuals more quickly out of our border patrol stations. We view that ruling as a very harmful one. It will extend the amount of time it takes us to process individuals, and at a time when our facilities are already overcrowded that that could be quite dangerous, not just for the non-citizen in our custody but also for our frontline personnel in those facilities. We are fighting that lawsuit and believe that this is an authority that has been used by administrations from both political parties in recent years to deal with circumstances like what we faced last week, where we have dangerous overcrowding in our facilities. And so there will be more to come on that in coming days.
And then from the other direction, we have been litigated on the new Circumvention of Lawful Pathways Rule. And we believe that that rule is very much within our statutory authorities. As I said, we are seeking to incentivize migrants to use safe, orderly means to come to the United States and get them out of the hands of these drug cartels and smuggling networks that have caused so many tragedies throughout our hemisphere over the last few years. But in order to do that, we need to enhance local pathways, which we have, and then we also need to apply a consequence for those who cross unlawfully.
And then lastly, we are also being litigated on our use of parole to bring in nationals of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. That lawsuit was filed by a number of states, and it includes the state of Texas. We view that as a deeply disappointing and political – like purely political effort, given that the parole processes that we’ve implemented for those nationalities have significantly reduced unlawful entries from those four countries. And as I said, the Government of Mexico is now accepting returns of nationals of those countries. They are unlikely to do so if we lose our ability to provide a lawful process for those nationals to come. And so we view that litigation as demonstrably political, and especially since those programs have been, I think, remarkably effective in reducing migration. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you for the question. We’re going to alternate sides of the room. The gentleman in the pink shirt.
QUESTION: Thank you. Rafal Stanczyk, Polish television. I’m wondering if you have any data presenting the importance of the wall on the border. Does it have an impact on deterring the illegal crossings? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NUÑEZ-NETO: Yeah, so that’s a good question. I would say that in my experience, barriers or walls at the border, they don’t stop unlawful entries. What they do is they reroute them. They move them away from where the barrier is constructed to other parts of the border. And historically, we have used barriers under, again, administrations of both parties to move border crossings out of urban areas and even suburban areas where once individuals cross unlawfully you have a very limited amount of time to effect a law enforcement response and to channel those flows to other parts of the border where you have more time to respond to an unlawful entry. So I think in general, barriers on the border have not reduced migration, but they have kind of channeled it towards other parts of the border where we have the ability to interdict individuals more easily.
MODERATOR: Thank you for the question. The red jacket, please.
QUESTION: Hi. Yasmine El-Sabawi, TRT World. I wanted to go back to you bringing up, of course, smugglers. We’ve heard this over the last week a lot that a lot of these efforts are to deter smuggling people across. I mean clearly, also these smugglers are exploiting a lot of these people’s desperation to come here, which means that the major push factors in these countries still exist. And we’ve seen the Biden administration produce this Los Angeles Declaration on Migration, and the Vice President bring in corporations to Central America to try to provide jobs. But is enough being done given also the numbers we’ve seen that you talked about just before Title 42 was lifted?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NUÑEZ-NETO: So I can start and then happy to defer to Marta on some of this. I mean, from my standpoint, one of the things that we have seen over the last really handful of years is the emergence of the drug trafficking organizations, the cartels, in the movement of people throughout the hemisphere. It used to be that human smuggling and drug trafficking were kind of separate enterprises and that the Mexican drug cartels mainly just charged a fee for individuals to cross their territory. What we’re seeing now is throughout the hemisphere the transnational criminal organizations, the drug trafficking organizations are increasingly moving people themselves and coordinating the movement of people, not just in Mexico and through Mexico but also through the Darien jungle in Panama.
And so we are deeply concerned about that. Obviously, as everybody knows, the Mexican drug cartels have very – are very dangerous and have very little belief in the sanctity of human life. And so we have seen a number of horrific tragedies on both sides of the border over the last year, and so we are very focused on trying to attack these networks. We have overseen a unprecedented multi-agency effort over the last year that has yielded over 9,000 arrests. We have seen other governments participate in these efforts. We had the first extradition of human smugglers from Guatemala to the United States earlier this year. And obviously, as I said, there’s a unprecedented effort going on today in the Darien between the governments of Colombia and Panama to try to attack these networks. Then I’ll let Marta talk about the L.A. Declaration.
MS YOUTH: Thanks, Blas. So I’m just going write a little note to myself – not on your paper, Blas. Thanks.
So in terms of the push factors, why people leave, I think everybody who is following migration follows – it’s everything; conflict, violence, persecution, extortion, corruption, abuses, economic hardship, right? I mean, the – COVID certainly played a role into that. And then increasingly, all of this exacerbated the – climate change in some cases is also something that is also an additional factor that cause people to undertake these dangerous journeys. And so part
of what the L.A. Declaration really looked at is – so there are, as I mentioned at the top, 20 million people displaced in the region. And so why – so what can be done to help people with a variety of different factors for – who are leaving for a variety of different factors? And as Blas mentioned, and as you mentioned, a lot of this is Root Causes Strategy development, the Vice President’s efforts on – and especially in Central America on bringing in the private sector.
But so just as all of the reasons that people who are on the move are diverse, there’s also – there’s, like, not one silver bullet; we can’t say, well, the Regional Processing Center is going to be the solution, or the development efforts are going to be the solution. It has to be this comprehensive approach across the board because there are a variety of reasons. And so amongst the things that in the L.A. Declaration we focused on was stabilization. Twenty million people displaced, so how do you give people the ability to have a dignified life in the place that they have displaced to, right?
And so part of this is helping complement the efforts of all of these countries in the region who have been so generous since 2017, 2018 with this just kind of extraordinary outflow of Venezuelans alone in the region. And all of these countries are, like, hosting them. I mean, it’s an incredible thing, the generosity of these countries.
But part of what needs to be done from the international community is to assist those countries in complementing their efforts. And so we are providing assistance in terms of humanitarian assistance to help stabilize. And so some of these are livelihoods programs or programs to help provide safe spaces for children, GBV prevention programs. There’s, like, a whole wide swath of programs. But also part of it is to help build the capacities of governments in the region to have that social safety net that they provide so that people can have the option of choosing to stay.
And so one of the things that is most important, and Colombia was at the forefront of this, was providing temporary protective status, as they have provided to more than 2 million people. Having a card that says “I have a right to be here” is, like, one of the most important things that somebody who has been displaced can have. And so the U.S. Government has joined forces with the Colombian Government to help them in registering people and providing these cards and making sure that they have this valuable card.
Ecuador has been doing the same thing; over the past year they have been regularizing Venezuelans and others so that they, too, have the ability to remain lawfully in that country. Peru has done this. Costa Rica has an asylum system that has been overwhelmed because so many Nicaraguans are fleeing that brutal regime, and so they now this year just have started doing a temporary protective status to help give people another option than waiting in the long queue for asylum. So many countries in the region are providing this. And so what we are doing is providing assistance through international organizations to help the – complement the efforts of countries so that they can stabilize people, regularize people.
And then our – the other part of – one of the other parts of the L.A. Declaration was lawful pathways, right? And so we have stepped up and kind of really advanced and increased the
diversity of lawful pathways for people, including labor pathways, right? So that kind of answers some of the mail on the economic hardship.
And then on climate, the – recently there was a Cities Summit of the Americas in Denver, and I was fortunate enough to join the State Department’s delegation there. And it was incredible, the number of mayors from the region. We had a roundtable and met with them, and the discussion on how mayors in the United States as well as in the region are preparing because there will be a movement of people from rural areas to cities, and how mayors are at the forefront of climate displacement. And so there’s a lot of different efforts and a lot of different kind of tracks of assistance that are being rolled out to kind of meet some of the reasons, the variety of reasons, that people are on the move.
MODERATOR: Thank you. So we have time for one final question and then we’ll wrap it up. There’s a hand up in the back row, tan coat.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for doing this. So I’m Watanabe with Japan Broadcasting Corporation. I’d like to ask you on fentanyl because there are a lot of people killed by fentanyl, which come from Mexico. So what measures can be taken by the DHS to address the fentanyl while considering the change of international drug trade and border control policies? Thank you so much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NUÑEZ-NETO: So I might need you to restate the last part of that question. Can you hold the microphone a little closer to your —
QUESTION: So what measures can be taken by DHS on fentanyl, so while considering the change of international drug trade and border control policies?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NUÑEZ-NETO: Yeah, thank you for that. So obviously, fentanyl has fueled a significant public health crisis in the United States in recent years. I think it has been challenging, a challenge for many countries to deal with. What we have been doing is really working very closely with our foreign partners, with the Chinese Government and also with the Government of Mexico, to try to stop the precursor chemicals that are sometimes being routed through Mexico and then turned into fentanyl there.
We have surged technology to our ports of entry, what we call nonintrusive inspections technology. We are busy deploying that technology to more and more ports of entry in what we call pre-primary. So this is historically, to go through a vehicle X-ray, you would have to be selected to go to a secondary inspection. Our vision for the future is really that all vehicles that would be queueing up at a port of entry would go through one of these machines that have proven extraordinarily effective at identifying drugs in hidden compartments in vehicles.
Fentanyl is a specific and difficult challenge because it is – very small quantities of fentanyl can be quite dangerous. And so it is – I don’t think we have a silver bullet, but we do have an all-of-government effort right now, working with the Government of Mexico to identify the networks
that are, again, bringing those precursor chemicals to Mexico and turning them into fentanyl and bringing them across the border.
And we have had, I would say again, excellent cooperation from the Government of Mexico in trying to shut down these illicit pathways. But it is a challenge for, I think, all the governments that have – are dealing with fentanyl right now.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much for the question. Would our briefers like to offer any concluding remarks?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NUÑEZ-NETO: I think I’m good.
MODERATOR: Okay, great. So I would like to thank our briefers for sharing their time and energy with us today, and thank everybody in the room and who’s on Zoom from the media representation. On behalf of the Foreign Press Center, thank you very much. That concludes the briefing.