Can improved trade conditions in Central America help roll back the current tide of migrants from this region who seek refuge in the U.S.?
That has been the steadfast belief of Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, who announced on Feb. 27 that the country’s trade community through the Commercial Customs Operations Advisory Committee (COAC) would stand up a new working group to develop recommendations to facilitate more efficient cross-border trade flows in and out of Central America.
The migrants, who mostly hail from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, face conditions of poverty and food insecurity, which are exacerbated by numerous supply chain and customs control barriers at those countries’ borders, McAleenan (pictured above) said.
Since McAleenan’s announcement, membership in COAC’s Northern Triangle Working Group has swelled to 50 stakeholders, including not only members of the trade but involvement from nongovernmental organizations and the U.N.
“It’s no small task,” he said.
Kate Weiner, director of North American customs for Cargill and a COAC member involved with the working group, said what’s happening on the U.S. border with the arrival of Central American migrants continues to be one of the biggest issues facing the United States.
“As a member of this COAC and participating in that working group, it’s a daunting task,” Weiner said. But she added, “we look forward to the challenge.”
During their meeting, the COAC members got to view firsthand the processing of migrants by CBP and Border Patrol officers at the Port of Laredo.
While CBP officials welcome the COAC’s enthusiasm for the newfound Northern Triangle Working Group, there remains some concern that the membership size could handicap its focus. There’s a “need to put discipline around it,” said John Leonard, executive director of CBP’s Office of Trade, Trade Policy and Programs.
White said the working group plans to provide CBP with more definitive objectives by the next COAC meeting, which will be held in Buffalo, N.Y., on Aug. 21.