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Meijer Opening Statement in Oversight Hearing

June 11, 2021

Meijer Opening Statement in Oversight Hearing

WASHINGTON, DC – Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI), Ranking Member of the Oversight, Management & Accountability Subcommittee, delivered the following opening statement in a subcommittee hearing entitled, “Enhancing Border Security: Addressing Corruption in Central America.”

Ranking Member Meijer’s Opening Statement (as prepared for delivery)

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing today – the second that this subcommittee has held on push factors and migration to the United States. I am looking forward to discussing the issue of corruption in the Northern Triangle and hope to gain insight into opportunities for congressional action to both improve longstanding regional challenges and mitigate the current crisis on our border.

In addition to poverty, extremely high rates of crime and violence, recent natural disasters, and COVID, this area of the world is facing some truly daunting challenges. According to a global survey of 180 countries conducted by Transparency International, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are among the most corrupt countries in the world. Specifically, these countries face systematic and entrenched corruption in their criminal justice systems, election finance networks, and public procurement processes, which are often abused for personal financial gain. This widespread corruption undermines civil society and makes everything from doing business to raising a family incredibly difficult. Businesses, families, and communities are constantly fighting an uphill battle to simply provide for themselves and their loved ones.

Before coming to Congress, I saw communities struggle with these kinds of crises and corruption around the world. I spent two years in Afghanistan as a conflict analyst and led disaster response operations to help communities that had been impacted by natural disasters. We worked to protect aid workers delivering vital assistance to those in need. Providing needed international assistance, especially to our regional partners, is critical. But if we aren’t thoughtful and deliberate in allocating this aid, opting instead to pour large sums of untargeted money into struggling countries, we will inevitably fuel even more corruption and have the opposite impact that we hope to achieve. We saw this at times in countries like Afghanistan. It is up to us to ensure this doesn’t happen again in the Northern Triangle. Widespread corruption in any country not only takes a financial toll, but it undermines the basic roots of a civil society and destabilizes everything it touches.

As I stated in the last hearing, however, this Administration has compounded the problem by failing to dissuade those who want to illegally cross our borders. Although I do not fault those who seek a better life for their families, we now find ourselves in a border crisis where too many individuals and families have made the choice to enter the U.S. illegally because they have been encouraged and misled by this Administration. There are many reasons why people in the Northern Triangle choose to migrate, and we explored those in detail at the last hearing, and so I will not go through all of them again. However, it is clear that many actions taken by this Administration have resulted in the crisis we’re seeing today.

Earlier this week, Vice President Harris did state that families should not travel illegally to our southern border, but at the same time shrugged off a question about why she has not visited the border herself. As we all know, this is no laughing matter. Efforts to address the problems at our border and efforts to address the problems in the Northern Triangle are not mutually exclusive. Acknowledging this should not be difficult or political. Vice President Harris has recognized herself that the circumstances in the Northern Triangle that are driving people to make the perilous journey north will not be altered overnight. Therefore, when faced with a set of challenges as complex as this, we should all be willing to work together to simultaneously address both the causes and the effects.

Unfortunately, the effects cannot be ignored. In fact, the number of migrants illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border this fiscal year is already the most since 2006 — and there are still four months left, according to preliminary data from Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

And the statistics we have seen, and continue to see, are truly startling and heartbreaking:

  • CBP is on track to encounter more than two million migrants crossing the U.S.–Mexico border by the end of this fiscal year – more than four times the number encountered in FY20.
  • 10% of individuals leaving CBP custody in the Rio Grande Valley Sector are testing positive for COVID-19.
  • And according to Border Patrol agents, migrants are paying smugglers on average $4,000 to reach the southern border.

To address these issues, the Administration plans to provide over $300 million in funding for Northern Triangle countries and has proposed a $4 billion aid package to address instability and other issues in the region. Additionally, the Vice President has announced a new Call to Action to increase economic development in the region in an attempt to create greater incentives for the residents of the Northern Triangle to stay in their countries. Further, the Administration announced that it will form a Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security task force to pursue prosecutions and asset recoveries relating to corruption and to train law enforcement officials.

I fear, however, that this may not be enough. Without addressing the deeply entrenched, systemic issues in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, no lasting improvements can be made. This means that any funding going to these efforts should have rigorous oversight; they should be measured against real metrics to track progress, and they should include closer collaboration between all the different U.S. government agencies engaged in the region. Without these kinds of effective program management mechanisms in place, there is little reason to believe that more money will lead to more progress on outcomes than it has in the past. This kind of long-term engagement will take sustained attention and focused effort, something we in Washington can struggle to produce but must endeavor to achieve.

I am hopeful that we will use this opportunity today to engage on specific strategies and potential solutions that Congress and the Administration can pursue together in order to address these challenges in a responsible and effective way.

Mr. Chairman, thank you again for holding this hearing. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.