McGovern joins congressional delegation to Central America

  • U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi lay flowers at the grave of six Jesuit priests who were murdered by the U.S.-backed Salvadoran military at the University of Central America in El Salvador. —SUBMITTED PHOTO/Office of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

  •  U.S. Rep Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, and the congressional delegation are greeted on arrival last week in Guatemala by  U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala Luis E. Arreaga. OFFICE OF SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE NANCY PELOSi

  • U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D- Worcester, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi talk with migrant families at the Customs and Border Patrol Ursula Processing Center in McAllen, Texas. OFFICE OF SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE NANCY PELOSI

Staff Writer
Saturday, August 17, 2019

NORTHAMPTON — While migrants from Central American countries continue to be detained in sordid conditions under President Donald Trump’s administration, U.S. Rep Jim McGovern recently returned from a four-day trip to the region to better understand why families are leaving their homes for the United States.

McGovern, D-Worcester, participated in a congressional delegation with 11 other lawmakers, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that traveled last week to Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and McAllen, Texas — the site of a detention center where they saw the state of confinement spaces and met with asylum-seeking families.

During the trip, McGovern and the rest of the delegation held meetings with high-level representatives from the countries, including Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, in an attempt to understand violence, corruption and poverty in Central American countries. The group also met with community and faith groups, and Pelosi and McGovern laid flowers at the graves of six Jesuit priests who were murdered by the U.S.-backed Salvadoran military during the country’s civil war.

“We’re talking a lot about people at the border, but not about what’s driving these people out of their countries,” McGovern said. “These are not safe countries, and the reason why people are coming to our border is because they’re trying to escape really harsh realities in their homeland.”

McGovern specifically recalls the delegation’s visit to a shelter in Guatemala dedicated to housing children who were trafficked or sexually abused. For the children, he said, the space served as a space to feel safe and to reintegrate into society.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the arm of the federal government tasked with administering civilian foreign aid, supported this shelter in the past. However, due to a recent temporary freeze placed on aid funds by the Trump administration, McGovern said, this shelter is no longer funded.

“In some cases we heard that some programs will be eliminated entirely,” he said.

Ending aid makes situations in these countries worse, he said, as more people will be forced out of their homes by unchecked crime.

When he gets back to Congress, McGovern said, he’s committed to fighting to keep temporary protected status for Honduras, which would allow citizens of that country in the United States to live and work here for a limited time.

The administration attempted to end this designation for immigrants from many Central American countries, including El Salvador and Honduras, though pending litigation has put the program’s termination on hold.

Also Thursday, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey weighed in on the border crisis, co-signing a letter along with 20 attorneys general across the country lambasting a new immigration rule that would prevent asylum claims for immigrants who traveled across another country to reach the U.S.

American intervention

This is not the first time McGovern has traveled to Central America — his first visit to El Salvador was in the early 1980s while serving as an aide to late U.S. Rep. Joe Moakley. During his time in the country in the 1980s, he said, he saw firsthand the effects of American intervention in foreign affairs with the U.S. government’s support of what he called “a brutal military.”

But when the civil war in El Salvador ended years later, and peace accords were signed, McGovern said the United States walked away from its previous involvement. Aid and support for the Salvadoran people, he said, quickly diminished to nothing.

American intervention in Central American countries did not just stop at El Salvador, he said. The United States has a long track record of involvement in foreign conflicts in the region, including overthrowing the Guatemalan government in 1954.

“After the wars in Central America ended, we should have pushed a Marshall-like plan to help these countries recover and get back on their feet,” McGovern said, referring to the post-World War II policy of American financial support in rebuilding Western Europe. “These countries were destroyed and we were only too happy to support them when it came to fighting a war.”

Now, violence grips these central American countries much tighter than before due to a vacuum created by a sudden exit of American aid in the region following armed conflict, he said.

“A lot of the turmoil that exists in these countries today is in direct result of our intervention over the years,” he said, noting that the U.S. has deported many gang members back to their home countries. “We have a moral responsibility to be part of the solution.”

McGovern said governments of Central American countries needed to continue to be pressed to mitigate the effects of widespread government corruption.

“These are dangerous countries, and unless we work to help these causes, people are going to be compelled to leave,” he said.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.