Drop in U.S. drug-fighting in Central America fuels the exodus of children, says Bill Nelson

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Via U.S. Senate:

A high-ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee today said he believes the administration doesn’t fully “recognize the root cause” of the exodus of children from Central American countries and across a small part of the U.S. southern border.

That opinion was expressed by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, in a speech on the Senate floor delivered this morning just hours after a closed-door administration briefing for senators late last night.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, more than 56,000 unaccompanied children from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have crossed the border so far this fiscal year alone – a pace that would roughly double the number from the previous year. For example, the number of children coming from Honduras in the last five years has gone up from 968 in 2009 to 16,546 so far this year.

Most of the children are coming across one small part of the 2,300-mile-long U.S. border with Mexico. The most troublesome part is the Rio Grande sector that runs 250 miles east from the Gulf of Mexico along the Texas border, according to Customs data.

“The problem simply is that we are not devoting the time and the resources, the money, to the interdiction of the big drug shipments coming out of South America into Central America,” Nelson said.

“As a result, the drug lords have completely taken over these countries. As a result, the violence is the highest.

“And as a result of that drug violence of which there is very little law and order, you have the whole system corrupted, and with parents, with children, is it logical that they would want to send their children to a safer environment?

“Honduras is the murder capital now of the world,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the administration is getting its arms around the crisis, but should listen more closely to Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, who heads the U.S. Southern Command overseeing Central America, South America and the Caribbean. The lawmaker was referring to testimony Kelly gave before the Senate Armed Services Committee about four months ago.

“Severe budget cuts are now … forcing us to accept significant risks,” Kelly testified at the March 13 hearing.

“Last year, we had to cancel more than 200 very effective engagement activities and numerous, multi-lateral exercises.

“Because of asset shortfalls, we’re unable to get after 74 percent of suspected maritime drug trafficking. I simply sit and watch it go by. And because of service cuts, I don’t expect to get any immediate relief, in terms of assets, to work with in this region of the world.”

The U.S. is not the only country affected by the exodus. Other neighboring nations are also seeing an increase in the number of individuals crossing their borders. A United Nations report dated March 2010 called Children on the Run, says, “The number of requests for asylum has likewise increased in countries other than [sic] the U.S.”

“Combined, Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize documented a 435 percent increase in the number of asylum applications lodged by individuals from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala,” the report said.

Nelson says drop in U.S. drug-fighting in Central America fuels the exodus of children:

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.