BY NATHALIE CELY
President Barack Obama recently requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding from Congress to address the influx of unaccompanied migrant children entering the United States.
While the financial request aims to increase spending on border patrol agents, immigration judges, and new detention facilities, it does not target the root cause of the problem and leaves hundreds of thousands of children separated from their parents.
Although the reason why minors flee their native countries is often attributed to violence, poverty, and social instability, the fundamental cause frequently stems from a much more personal need: to be reunited with their loved ones.
Latin America and the U.S. must strengthen bilateral cooperation to decrease the number of children who risk their lives crossing the border in hopes for family reunification.
Without comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S., the influx of migrant children risking their lives continues to grow at a rapid rate.
According to Customs and Border Patrol, over 52,000 migrant children have been detained in 2014 – nearly double the more than 26,000 detained in 2013.
Projections put the number of unaccompanied minors at over 100,000 in 2015. According to Obama’s Director of Domestic Policy Cecilia Munoz, there are currently more girls and a larger percentage of children younger than 13 who are crossing the boarder alone.
Human rights groups note that many of these children report having been sexually abused, beaten, harassed and threatened in detention facilities in the US.
While the administration’s attempts to improve care for detained migrant children are honorable and well intentioned, it is critical that Latin America directly tackles the issues driving families out of their countries. Ranked one of the top four fastest growing economies in South America, Ecuador is using its resources to implement direct and effective steps to nip the undocumented migration crisis in the bud by building financial stability for its citizens.
Since his election in 2007, President Rafael Correa has helped drop poverty from 35 percent in 2007 to 27 percent in 2012, according to World Bank data. Per capita income has increased from $3,310 to $5,170.
Ecuador is a regional leader, drawing recognition from the World Bank for advancing from being a middle-income economy to an upper middle-income one.
Our country has transformed into an attractive place to live, work, and invest.
Additionally, the government of Ecuador has invested heavily in national security, infrastructure, education, and human development. Over 75% of the people living in the country have reported being satisfied with the quality of life.
Most U.S. government statistics put Ecuador at the low end of the unauthorized immigration pool.
According to Pew Research Hispanic Trends, Ecuadorians only make up 100,000 out of the 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
Providing assistance to all Ecuadorians, regardless if they are on Ecuador’s soil or not, is a top priority for our government.
The Embassy of Ecuador and consulates across the U.S. assist thousands of Ecuadorian immigrants wrapped-up in a system that lacks suitable protections or a comprehensive path to citizenship.
We work closely together to provide families the necessary resources to navigate through a complex legal system, as well as provide technical training grants and educational assistance to Ecuadorian immigrants abroad.
As the U.S. continues to battle the complex issues of establishing a comprehensive, rational, and humane immigration system, Latin America is doing its share to invest in growing its economy and providing a fulfilling quality of life for its people.
Only by tacking this issue on both sides of the border will we protect children from the dangers of illegal immigration and give them the opportunity to be reunited with their families safely one day.
Nathalie Cely is the Ambassador of Ecuador to the United States.