July 17, 2014

Video & Transcript: On Senate Floor, Kaine Addresses Humanitarian Crisis on the Border & Unaccompanied Children Fleeing Violence in Central America

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Madam President, in the last year, I have been in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon to visit Syrian refugees and the organizations that work with them. I have seen the effect of refugees fleeing violence on these nations. Lebanon has four million people. They have to care for a million refugees from Syria. That is one in four members of their population. These countries, especially Jordan and Lebanon, are much smaller than the United States. They are much poorer than the United States. Jordan has very little water for their own citizens, much less refugees, but they have shown a real sense of compassionate hospitality in treating these Syrian refugees who are fleeing violence and coming over their border. Lebanese citizens even run double school shifts, their own kids in the morning and Syrian refugees in the afternoon. Madam President, I have wondered, when I have been in the Middle East, in these countries, I wondered what would happen if refugees fleeing violence in other countries would come to the United States. I wondered if we would show the same compassion to refugees that is being shown by these poorer nations.

Well, Madam President, I want to say a few words about the crisis at the border now because we are now faced with that question. Refugees are fleeing violence and coming to the United States. Who are the children that are coming to the United States? They are overwhelmingly refugees from three Central American countries- 52,000 just this year. They are not just coming to the United States. They are also flooding into Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Senator Menendez held a hearing this morning and we had testimony. What is the reason that they're coming? And the testimony was this—the reason they are coming is overwhelmingly the violence in the neighborhoods where they lived that force their parents to decide that to keep them safe, they should leave.

What is the source of the violence? Overwhelmingly again, the testimony is the source of the violence is drug trade that has corrupted the neighborhoods and made them dangerous. The kids are fleeing violence driven by the drug trade. And, Madam President, here's the sort of sad punch line. Where does the drug trade originate? The drug trade is originating because of the significant demand in the United States for illegal drugs, especially cocaine. So these kids are fleeing to the United States because Americans are buying illegal drugs in such numbers, and the dollars being shipped south are creating conditions for gang warfare and cartels, turning these nations into transit points for drugs.

I know these children, and I know their neighborhoods. I lived in Honduras, in El Progreso, in 1981. 600 kids from that area have come to the United States as unaccompanied refugees this year. Honduras, a beautiful country with beautiful people, a long-time ally of the United States, is now the murder capital of the world. More people are murdered in Honduras than any other country. El Salvador is number four in the world. Guatemala is number five in the world.

And I recently met with the President Hernandez of Honduras to talk about what we can do. So what should we do? Let’s get the prescription what should we do. First, we have to stop blaming the kids or assuming that they’re bad people. They’re not. We need to show the same compassion for refugees fleeing violence and coming to the United States as nations like Lebanon and Turkey and Jordan show to refugees fleeing violence and coming to their nations. Secondly, we need to work on our legal process, the resources that the President asked for. I have some criticisms of exactly how those dollars will be spent and the particular protections that these refugees need when they arrive. Remember, it's a 2008 law that we're dealing with that was passed nearly unanimously by Congress and signed by President Bush. We need to do immigration reform. The fact that we haven't done it for so long creates a sense of confusion if we can clearly elaborate what our immigration policy is, it will dispel myths. More support for security in Central America is critical. We need to interdict more drugs. General Kelly, the head of SOUTHCOM, says we let 75% of the drugs that come into the states go by us. We know where they are, but we haven't put the military resources in place to interdict them. And finally, we have to tackle the U.S. demand for drugs because that’s what is driving the violence in the neighborhoods that are causing kids to flee.