Texas Democrat Proposes 'Safe Zone' in Guatemala to Process Asylum Seekers

By Susan Jones | September 23, 2022 | 5:45am EDT
A caravan of people heading to the U.S. marches from Huixtla to Escuintla, Chiapas state, Mexico, on June 9, 2022. (Photo by PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images)
A caravan of people heading to the U.S. marches from Huixtla to Escuintla, Chiapas state, Mexico, on June 9, 2022. (Photo by PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - Rep. Vincente Gonzalez, a Texas Democrat, is proposing a "safe zone" in Guatemala as a way to limit illegal immigration, which is breaking records at the southwest border.

"What my proposal is, is to create a safe zone in Guatemala, on the border of Guatemala and Mexico," Gonzalez told Fox News's Neil Cavuto on Thursday.

Gonzalez' bill says safe zones "may include embassies, consulates, other diplomatic facilities, or other facilities as determined to be appropriate by the Secretary of State."

"This could be a pilot program to begin with, where all migrants south of Mexico that are coming to our Southern border would -- must check in and request asylum at that juncture," Gonzalez said:

"And if we're going to let them in, ultimately, like we do on our Southern border under the credible-fear standard, we should do it at that juncture, and just allow them to fly into their final destination.

"That would do two things. First of all, it would take the pressure off of our Southern border, and get -- allow our Border Patrol and our law enforcement to do what they're supposed to be doing. And, second of all, it would take the cartel element out of the equation.

"Just last year, cartels in Mexico made around $5 billion bringing people to our Southern border. This is not something new. It's gone on for probably the past decade. But what I'm offering is a real plan, with bipartisan support, something both sides should be able to agree with, and make this commonsense long-term infrastructure investment further down from the border.

"And, right now, 90 percent of the migration is coming from our Northern Triangle, which is Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. But down the road, it could be Ecuador, it could be Venezuela, it could be Colombia. Who knows what the future holds.

"But I think, as a country, as a nation, we need to make intelligent long-term infrastructure investments to process asylum seekers or other types of migrants that are coming to this country. And when we deal with them further away, we can also figure out, OK, is it somebody that may qualify for asylum or qualify for a hearing?

"They can come in. And somebody that's absolutely not, then you can deal with them at that juncture. And, hopefully, we can come up with an immigration plan that will address some of these migration -- migrants.

"Clearly, we have a labor shortage in this country, and everyone knows it. We have a labor shortage. We need the labor. They need the jobs;. We just need to find an orderly process to make this happen."

Gonzalez agreed that relatively few migrants who request asylum actually qualify for asylum:

"I wouldn't allow anybody in that doesn't legally qualify to come in," he said. But processing them further away from the border would be much better than allowing a crush of humanity at the border, which overwhelms Border Control agents.

"And we keep the -- we get the cartel equation out of this system. And if somebody shows up to our border without checking into the safe zone, we can immediately remove them back. And right now, our laws don't allow this," Gonzalez said.

Creating a safe zone in Guatemala "would take tremendous pressure off our southern border, if we had laws on the books that would allow them to be able to do what they're doing on our Southern border further away," he continued:

"Right now, the law requires them to trek all the way through Mexico, pay a cartel $6,000 to $8,000 a head, and get to our Southern border, and overwhelm us, overwhelm law enforcement, overwhelm Border Patrol, overwhelm the securities that we have in place.

"And this is the only real solution to solve our problem. I took the only bipartisan group of members of Congress down to our border, not for photo-ops, like you see a lot of political folks on both sides of the aisle do, depending who's in the White House.

"These are folks who were down there trying to figure out a solution. And it took me a long time to put this bill together to assure that it checked off on all the legalities. I met with the president of Guatemala to get permission to allow us to do this on their soil. This has taken a lot of work to be able to get the language into this bill to get it filed.

"And it is a real solution, if we want to stop pointing fingers at each other and actually want to solve the problem on our Southern border."

The idea of making migrants wait in another country is not new. President Donald Trump's December 2019 "remain in Mexico" policy -- scrapped by the Biden administration -- is credited with reducing the flow of migrants at the border, as the chart below shows:

In fact, Gonzalez said he pitched his Guatemala idea to Trump when he was president. "And he liked it," Gonzalez said. BUt then the pandemic hit, and the Trump administration used Title 42, a public health measure, to limit illegal immigration.

Gonzalez said if a safe zone isn't established, or if asylum laws are not changed, "we will continue to have mass human beings showing up to our Southern border."

Gonzalez said his bill has received "positive" reaction from other Democrats: "I'm fixing to meet with the Hispanic Caucus," he said.

"I have a lot of friends that I have talked to on the other side of the aisle that like the idea. This is a new conversation. I'm talking about doing it humanely. It's going to be an American operation. It's going to be thoughtful. And I think it'll be effective, and it will really solve the problems that we have been talking about now for almost a decade on our southern border."

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