El Paso International Airport
El Paso, Texas

10:35 A.M. MDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  I want to thank all of these incredible leaders for joining us today.  Bishop, thank you for hosting us and bringing us together. 

I want to thank, of course, in front of everyone — and always, I want to thank — the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Dick Durbin, for being a part of this, but most importantly for your longstanding work fighting for immigration reform in the United States Senate and on behalf of all of America. 

Congresswoman, thank you for inviting us to your district and for your work, always, in D.C. and everywhere, requiring that everyone understands what is happening here.  And you’ve been a national leader in that regard.  

Secretary Mayorkas, it has been wonderful to be with you today.  And thank you for all of the innovation and the incredible work that you’ve been doing in such a short time with DHS. 

So I’ve asked these community leaders, these advocates, these fighters for human rights and for the dignity of all people to join us today so we could have a candid conversation. 

Many of you are aware that the President has asked me to — to focus on issues of the root causes of migration to the United States.  And your work has been the work on the ground — tireless work, heartfelt work — and I know you’ve seen so much.  

And — and so we’re going to have a candid conversation about what you see as being the reasons that people arrive here, and anything else you’d like to discuss. 

Our administration — it is important to be clear — is working to build a fair and a functional and a humane immigration system.  We feel very strongly about that.  And as you know, we inherited a tough situation.  In fact, right here in El Paso was the launch of the child separation policy.  You saw it as it rolled out on the ground in real time.

We have looked at a system where people have been housed in inhumane conditions over the last many years — an asylum system that has been broken and that needs to be reconstructed. 

And in five months, we’ve made progress.  But there’s still much more work to be done.  But we’ve made progress: family reunifications — and the Secretary can talk about that — incredible work that we’ve seen that he has helped facilitate by expediting the processing at the border; asylum determinations; and, of course, improvements in the facilities’ conditions.

We’ve also made progress in addressing the root causes.  As you know, I traveled to Guatemala and Mexico in the last couple of weeks, and met with the Presidents of both Guatemala and Mexico to talk about our concern and our interests, recognizing that we are all neighbors in the Western Hemisphere.  And just as if you go into any community, what’s going on with your neighbor will affect you.  And that is the approach that we have taken.

Coming out of the bilateral meeting that we had in Guatemala, we created a first-ever taskforce that is focused on corruption.  I’ve met with civil society within Guatemala so they could also candidly share with me their concerns.  We also created a young women’s empowerment initiative that I’m very excited about — and for obvious reasons, probably.  We all know why this is an important venture.  And also an — a human smuggling and trafficking task force.

In Mexico, the President of Mexico has been very clear that he wants us to be partners on these issues.  And we signed a — coming out of the bilateral meeting with President López Obrador, we signed a memorandum of understanding about the investment in resources and priorities that each of our countries will put into addressing the issues in Central America, with a particular focus on Honduras and Guatemala and El Salvador. 

I approach our work with two principles: one, that most people do not want to leave home.  They don’t want to leave the place where they were raised, the language they know, the culture they know, the church where they go, their abuela.  Most people don’t want to leave home.  And when they do, it is usually for one of two reasons: because they are fleeing some harm or because to stay at home means that they cannot satisfy the basic needs of their family.

I approach our work with that principle and another principle, which is — and I hope this does not sound trite or corny — that we have the capacity to give people hope and a belief that help is on the way.  

And so that — those principles are a large part of what is informing the work that we’ve been doing, addressing the root causes.  But today, I want to hear from you.  And you are on the ground.  You have been on the ground.  And it is very important to the President and me that we maintain not only access, but a role for you leaders to participate in our leadership around what needs to be done and what can be done. 

So, with that, I thank you all.  Again, Bishop, I thank you.  If you don’t mind me quoting the scripture —

BISHOP SEITZ:  Go for it.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.” 

So that is a lot of what informs our work.  And, of course, that crosses many things, and let that guide us with our work. 

So thank you all.  And I will say, I’ll see you all later to the press.   And we’re going to start our conversation.

10:42 A.M. MDT

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