Top Commander: Northern Triangle Migrants Not Facing Systemic Persecution at Home

Honduran migrants, part of a caravan heading to the United States, walk along a road in Camotan, Guatemala on January 16, 2021. - At least 4,500 Honduran migrants pushed past police and crossed into Guatemala Friday night, passing the first hurdle of a journey north they hope will take them …
JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP via Getty Images

The governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras do not engage in the kinds of systemic persecution of their citizens that would make them eligible for refugee or asylum status under United States laws, a top U.S. commander recently suggested.

During an underreported exchange at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) questioned Adm. Craig Faller, the U.S. Southern Command leader (SOUTHCOM), about the legal conditions on the ground in the Northern Triangle. This region is comprised of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Cotton asked the SOUTHCOM commander who oversees U.S. military activity in most of Latin America and the Caribbean:

Do the governments of those three [Northern Triangle] countries systematically persecute their own citizens on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, political views, religious belief, or other such categories?

Adm. Faller responded:

I’m in lockstep with our embassies, and we’ve got great diplomats, and we don’t see systematic exploitation. I work with the militaries, and the elements we work with are vetted and trusted, and I find they’re doing the right thing, whether it’s Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador.

Sen. Cotton noted that Northern Triangle citizens heading for the U.S. border are “economic migrants” who do not qualify for asylum or refugee status under American law because the governments of their home countries “do not persecute their own citizens systematically.”

Adm. Faller did not push back against Cotton’s characterization of the commander’s response.

To be eligible for asylum or refugee status, a migrant must face systemic persecution based on race, sex, ethnicity, religion, or political views in their home countries, the Arkansas Republican explained, adding:

An economic migrant is not eligible for asylum. They are not eligible for refugee status. Asylum is designed for people like, say a Hong Konger whose student visa expires and doesn’t want to return to Hong Kong now that the Chinese Communist Party has cracked down on that country.

The reason we have a crisis that our border is because President Biden and his administration opened the border and ended the policies of the Trump administration that made it clear you could not make the very dangerous journey across Mexico; you could not pay smugglers and traffickers thousands of dollars to get to our southern border and then expect to be let in. If you let them in, more will come. That is why we have a crisis at the border.

Cotton urged President Joe Biden to reimpose the Trump-era border policies that effectively stemmed illegal migration to the U.S.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has refused to recognize the surge of migrants at the southern border, particularly comprised of unaccompanied children from the Northern Triangle, as a crisis, calling it a “challenge” instead.

Biden border policies, including not expelling unaccompanied children who reach the border, have led to crowded, inhumane conditions in border patrol facilities.

While Republicans blame the Biden measures for the border crisis, noting that it is fueling child sex trafficking, among other problems, the Democrat president blames the previous administration.

Former acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, who served under Trump, told National Public Radio (NPR) this week that the previous administration warned the Biden folks that dismantling the former president’s immigration policies would trigger problems at the southern border.

Echoing his Salvadoran counterpart on Tuesday, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador indicated Tuesday that the Biden administration’s promise of better treatment for migrants is to blame for the border surge.

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