- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Senate Democrats said Wednesday that the solution to America’s illegal immigration problem begins to the south, and proposed a massive new infusion of aid to try to improve conditions in Central America to try to keep people from making the treacherous journey north.

Democrats said people from Central America should be allowed to apply for asylum from their home countries or neighboring nations, so they can get a pipeline to the U.S. without having to cross through Mexico.

And the senators proposed stiffening penalties for violent international gangs, drug cartel leaders and smuggling organizations, hoping to crack down on the violence that the Democrats said is chasing people out of their homes and forcing them to head to the U.S.

“Mr. President here’s your chance. Join with us. We’d like to do this on a bipartisan basis,” said Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

Democrats said the issues go beyond illegal immigration. They said the same organizations that control the human-smuggling routes also traffic drugs into the U.S., and both can be tackled at the same time.

The proposal could be the basis for some agreement, with President Trump also calling for a crackdown on gangs and smugglers — though Democrats said he’ll have to reverse his calls for cutting foreign aid to Central America as part of the deal.

The bill also does not include the changes to American deportation laws that Mr. Trump is seeking.

Democrats’ bill is an attempt to respond to the changing nature of illegal immigration along the southwest border. For decades, the flow of people jumping the border was almost all Mexican men.

But those numbers have dropped dramatically over the last 10 years, and an increasing percentage of the flow is now families and unaccompanied juveniles from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. They are fleeing poverty and dangerous neighborhoods back home, and are enticed to come to the U.S. by lax immigration enforcement.

Many of the Central Americans will make asylum claims in the U.S., though few actually have qualified. Still, once in the U.S. they often disappear into the shadows, gaining a foothold among the 11 million other illegal immigrants already here.

The Democratic bill would boost U.S. foreign assistance to the Central American countries, reversing cuts the Trump administration proposed, and it would add more law enforcement money to help the Latin American countries boost their own law enforcement.

It would also surge resources to U.S. diplomatic installations in the region to allow people to make asylum claims from their home countries or from neighboring nations such as Costa Rica and Mexico.

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