Harry S. Truman Building
10:05 A.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Secretary, thank you for your hospitality this morning and for the outstanding leadership that you have brought to your role as Secretary of State for the United States of America.
To President Hernandez, to President Morales, Vice President Ortiz, Mr. Secretary, to Secretary Nielsen, and to our co-hosts from Mexico, Foreign Secretary Videgaray and Interior Secretary Navarrete: It is an honor. It is an honor for me to join you for the second year in a row at this annual Conference on Security and Prosperity in Central America. Welcome back to Washington, D.C. We are grateful for your participation and your partnership in this effort over the past year.
Let me bring greetings this morning from a great champion of this hemisphere of freedom, and a great champion of the partnerships that are so well represented here. I bring greetings this morning from President Donald Trump. And I also bring his appreciation for your engagement and your participation in this effort.
Before I begin, let me also say that while we are here and our minds are focused on issues of great importance to your nations and ours, here in America our hearts and our minds and our efforts are focused on the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.
Hurricane Michael made landfall yesterday in the Panhandle of Florida, continues to have impacts in Georgia and Alabama and the Carolinas. The President and I have been focused on our response efforts. We’ve taken decisive action in this country in coordination with state, local, and federal officials to prepare for this storm. And as speak, we are focused on the life-saving mission — search and rescue — and beginning to assess the catastrophic impacts of this hurricane.
Let me also say that we also express our deepest condolences to the nations represented here and across Central America for the loss of life from the torrential rains that occurred over the past week. More than a dozen lives were lost and we hope that you will carry back the condolences and the prayers to our neighbors and friends in the wake of those storms.
And I want to thank you for the sentiment and concern for our country that each of you has expressed today. We will continue to work through this. We come together as Americans always do, in these moments. And as the President often says in challenging times, “We are one American family.”
And to all of those affected by Hurricane Michael, I say to you, we are with you. We will continue to work with you until we rebuild and recover bigger and better than ever before.
So thank you again. It is an honor to be with you today. Last month, in an address before the United Nations, President Trump reaffirmed our commitment to build a stronger, safer, and more prosperous Western Hemisphere, and to helping our neighbors, in his words, “build more hopeful futures in their home countries.”
That is the cause that brings us here today. It brought us together a year ago in Florida. The United States of America has never been more committed to strengthening our partnership with the nations in the Northern Triangle to help you tackle the problems facing our shared neighborhood.
Your countries have faced the scourge of drug trafficking, gang violence and corruption for decades. Their effects have radiated outward, not just affecting your people but affecting your neighbors and affecting our nation, literally touching every nation in our hemisphere.
Here in the United States, the American people see the terrible cost of drugs, of gang violence, of illegal immigration every day.
Over the last year alone, more than 225,000 Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans have left their homes and made the often-dangerous journey to attempt to illegally enter the southern border of the United States. They accounted for more than half of all illegal immigrants apprehended at our southern border last year.
And these numbers are growing. The number of people from El Salvador who tried to enter the United States illegally has declined, but the number from Honduras is up 61 percent. The number from Guatemala has increased by 75 percent.
Our administration, through our Department of Homeland Security, has taken — and will continue to take — decisive action to confront this crisis. We’ve been making historic investments in border security and internal enforcement.
We’re enforcing our immigration laws with renewed vigor and resources. And we’re working with the United States Congress to close the loopholes that human traffickers often use to entice vulnerable families to make the dangerous journey, at risk to themselves and their children, to come north.
But to stem the flow of illegal immigration and drugs — as I said a year ago on behalf of the President and our administration, and as we’ve discussed when I gathered with many of you in the region last year — that we must confront these problems together. And we must confront them at their source within the Northern Triangle.
Since this congress first convened a year ago, I’m pleased to report that we have made measurable progress thanks to your leadership and your actions in strengthening security, promoting prosperity, and stemming the flow of illegal immigration across the region. But the challenges remain.
Our security — our nations have conducted joint law-enforcement actions across the region. We lowered homicide rates in the Northern Triangle. We brought thousands of charges against gang members and money launderers.
When it comes to economic prosperity, the nations of the Northern Triangle have formed a new customs union, which is supporting jobs and increasing trade in the region. USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, all continue to help encourage investments in your region, and we will continue to do so.
As a part of our America Crece initiative, our Treasury Department is now working with Mexico’s Finance Ministry and institutions like the World Bank to support economic reforms in the Northern Triangle, and we encourage energy development and infrastructure projects throughout the region.
And last year, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador helped ensure the safe return — the safe return of nearly 75,000 of your citizens who had tried to enter the United States illegally.
Last June, when I traveled to Guatemala with Secretary Nielsen, we called on countries in the Northern Triangle to take several concrete steps to help stem the migration crisis that’s affecting our country and yours. And while some good progress is made, as I mentioned, we gather today because much work remains.
But let me acknowledge the progress. President Hernandez, thank you for reappointing Attorney General Oscar Chinchilla, a strong defender of the rule of law. This is an important step to root out corruption and defeat the criminal networks within your borders. Honduras also has committed to double the number of your frontier police by 2020, from 400 to 800. And we are grateful for these actions and grateful for your leadership.
President Morales, the United States is grateful that your First Lady will launch a public-messaging campaign warning people not to enter the United States illegally.
And, Vice President Ortiz, we want to thank you for partnering with U.S. law enforcement to identify more than 700 gang members since May of 2017. Thanks to our combined efforts, I’m pleased to report we’ve made 60 arrests of criminal ring leaders just in the past year.
Finally, all three countries have agreed to deploy more law enforcement officials to the Joint Border Intelligence Group, which will allow us to share law enforcement information — stop criminals from crossing our borders to escape justice. We need each of you to follow through on that commitment but we are grateful for the efforts that you have taken thus far.
I can assure you that President Trump and I will continue to work with our Congress to address this crisis from our side of the border. The President will use his executive authority to help where he can and to take such actions as we deem necessary to see to the best interest and the security of the United States of America. We’re going to continue to enforce our border, strengthen public safety, promote economic growth across the region, all of which is designed to stem the flow of illegal migration.
But as I said, for all we’ve done before, we gather here today because there is more work to be done. President Hernandez, we encourage you, with great respect, to continue to redouble your efforts to increase the number of border police combatting human trafficking. And we encourage you — we encourage you, with great respect, to make investments in border security as well.
President Morales, with equal respect, we encourage you to devote even more resources to securing your border. Take full advantage of the border-security task forces the United States has already established. We are anxious to work with you to ensure the sovereignty and territorial integrity of your country and ours.
And, Vice President Ortiz, we encourage you to expand the Salvador Seguro program to keep reducing crime in your country, strengthen your anti-extortion task forces and your vetted law-enforcement units so they can work with us to defeat the gangs — the gangs that are preying on your people and, when they make their way north of the border, preying on ours.
And I say to each of those nations represented here, on behalf of our administration, as you build commercial partnerships with other countries, including China, we urge you to focus on, and demand, transparency and look after your — and our — long-term interests.
We also need all the nations in the region to reinforce a very simple message to your people, and it’s a message from the heart. And that is, the leaders in this room and the governments that you represent should tell your people: Don’t put your families at risk by taking the dangerous journey north to attempt to enter the United States illegally.
The truth is, your message can probably be summed up by telling them that if they can’t come to the United States legally, they should not come at all. And say it with strength and say it with compassion as neighbors and as friends because it’s the truth.
We are commitment to border security and integrity. We’re committed to the rule of law and your nations and your prosperity, but we all need to speak with one voice so that those who would exploit vulnerable families will do so no more.
Ultimately, we do recognize though that prosperity in your nations will contribute greatly to allaying the migration crisis that we face. Your people will stay home if they believe there’s a brighter future for them there. As the old saying goes, “There’s no place like home.”
And so we’ll continue to stand with you to fight against corruption in your nations, to strengthen the rule of law, but also to spur job creation and economic growth in your nations.
Today, even as countries like China tries to expand their influence in the region, the best way to solve these problems, we believe, is to strengthen the bonds between the United States and the Northern Triangle and all the nations of our hemisphere, to strengthen the economic ties between our nations.
If you do more, I’m here to say on behalf of the President of the United States and the American people, we’ll do more. We stand ready to help you unleash your energy resources, to create more business development in your countries, to increase collaboration between our universities and cultural exchanges, and more.
That’s why I’m pleased to announce that, at the President’s directon, I will lead the U.S. delegation to Mexico on December the 1st to attend the inauguration of Mexico’s new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. And it will be my great honor to represent the United States, along with the Secretary of State at that momentous occasion.
President Trump has had good discussions already with President-elect Obrador, and we are confident that under this leadership, and under the leadership of President Donald Trump, that the United States and Mexico will continue to work closely to advance our shared security and prosperity in the interests of our hemisphere.
So I close by simply saying, thank you for joining us again for the second annual conference. Thank you for the efforts you have taken to date. They have impacted greatly the quality of life, the security, and the prosperity of your nations and ours.
But let’s resolve today to do more. Let’s resolve in this discussion to find new ways to work together. Because in this hemisphere of freedom, as our nation prospers, as your nations prosper, we will stem the tide of this migration crisis. We will confront those who would do us harm through drug trafficking and gang violence. We will create greater opportunity and prosperity across this hemisphere of freedom, so help us God.
Thank you all very much.
10:19 A.M. EDT