Remarks With President Salvador Sanchez Ceren of El Salvador, President Otto Fernando Perez Molina of Guatemala, and Foreign Minister Mireya Aguero Trejo de Corrales of Honduras Before Their Meeting

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Miramar Hotel
Panama City, Panama
July 1, 2014

Date: 07/01/2014 Description: Secretary Kerry, flanked by Presidents Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala, left, and Salvador Sanchez Ceren of El Salvador, right, and joined by Honduran Foreign Minister Mireya Aguero de Corrales, addresses reporters before a discussion about unaccompanied Central American children trying to emigrate to the United States. - State Dept Image

We’re, all of us, meeting at a critical time. We’re honored to be here in Panama for the celebration of the inauguration of the new president, Mr. Varela, but we’re also here to meet on an issue which challenges all of our countries.

Tens of thousands of young children are at enormous risk for their lives. They’re being exploited and they’re being put in great danger. And it’s a challenge to each of us. The United States wants to work very, very closely with our Central American partners in order to try to address this issue. This is a very complicated issue, and it’s not a question of assigning blame. The only people to blame are the criminals who exploit young children.

Each country faces special challenges, particularly our friends in Central America. There are challenges of the economy, jobs, violence, of the social inequities. And we obviously understand people who want to be able to do better and to look for a better life.

But at the same time, there are rules of law and there is a process and there is false information that is being spread about benefits that might be available to these young people who are looking for that better life. And so we need to work together, to communicate to our people, to try to apply the law, and most importantly, to work with each of these countries to address the fundamental underlying causes of this particular challenge.

Yesterday, Ambassador Tom Shannon, a counselor of the State Department, and the Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson visited the southern border of the United States in order to first-hand work with authorities to address this issue. And President Obama announced that he will be making a request of Congress for $2 billion to immediately apply to addressing the various aspects of this problem that we confront.

So I’m very grateful to our friends from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras for coming today to sit and to talk through things that we can do together, to work in a cooperative way in order to try to do better in addressing this important challenge. The lives of children cannot be put at risk this way, and we all have a responsibility as leaders to do our part in order to solve this problem. And we will.