At Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, Portman Presses Nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of El Salvador on Title 42 and Increased Illicit Drug Traffic in the Country
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) pressed William Duncan, Nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of El Salvador, on the record levels of immigrants and drugs crossing the United States-Mexico border. Portman highlighted the need for El Salvador to implement a strategic plan and increase international collaboration to counter the narcotics that flow through Central America. Portman also questioned the nominee on the effects of Title 42 being revoked and the impact it would have on the United States, as the Mexico-U.S. border is experiencing an unprecedented surge of migrants. Senator Portman noted that many of the United States’ current policies encourage illegal immigration, which stems from Central and South America.
A transcript of Senator Portman’s questioning can be found below and the video can be found here.
Senator Portman: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Look, it’s a complicated political environment and I really appreciate all of you being willing to step up and serve your country for all of you, but one you have been serving your country through foreign service and have accomplished a great deal to get to the level that you are as ambassadors. But we need your help, I mean this is discouraging what’s going on. Uruguay being the exception and to, you know, the comments by Senator Rubio I think we do not take advantage of these relatively pro-democracy, pro-U.S. center and center-right governments enough and don’t show them enough love and support and that’s one reason we end up you know with the more difficult situations as we see in pretty much every country represented, even with regard to Suriname with regard to their opening to China which concerns me greatly and the Belt and Road Initiative, so that would be, I would echo those concerns and I think we need to double our efforts to demonstrate our support for those countries that are standing up for democracy, human rights, and are allied with us. With regard to El Salvador, I’m going to come at this a little differently, on the U.S. border we are experiencing something unparalleled, we’ve never seen it before. We have record levels of people, and drugs coming across the border. We got three months left in the fiscal year until we know what the final numbers are, already were at record levels of any year of the history of our country, and this is based on so called encounters, but it’s true that Salvador has been sending people to the United States for a long time, legally and illegally.
“In fact, I’m told that the $7 billion dollars in remittances went to El Salvador last year that’s the World Bank figure, that’s a quarter of the GDP of El Salvador. And yet, you have Bukele, you know, treating the United States relationship in a way that would indicate that he doesn’t want to cooperate or work with us, and yet there’s this strong connection, I don’t know quite how to use that leverage but $7 billion dollars in remittances. One question I’d have for you Mr. Duncan because you’ve been at this a while, you got a lot of experience in Latin America. Title 42 is about to be revoked if the administration has its way and roughly half of the people who are stopped at the border and turned back are turned back because of Title 42 and yet we have record levels of illegal migration. So, without 42 being in place it would be a flood and that’s because of our silent policy, in my view primarily, but it’s also other changes that the administration made. What do you think about that? Do you think human smugglers and drug cartels will come from Salvador in increased numbers if Title 42 is revoked at the border”
Nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of El Salvador William Duncan: “Thank you for the question, Senator. I’m afraid I can’t speak to what the effect of revocation of Title 42 would be.”
Senator Portman: “I think you can.”
Nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of El Salvador William Duncan: “Nor can I tell you because I am not involved in the conversations about Title 42. What I can say is that as you correctly point out, we’ve been seeing irregular migration from Central America, Salvador is a part of that. I think that in the last year or so they’ve been in fourth place about six percent of the total behind Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala. I think if I were confirmed I would be very focused on implementing the administration’s strategy with regard to the root causes of migration. I think democracy needs to be strengthened in El Salvador because I think that’s critical to prosperity. I think we need to keep working with the Salvadorians to strengthen the rule of law and try and reduce crime and violence.”
Senator Portman: “I’m going to interrupt you if I could. I mean that’s fine we’ve spent I don’t know $3.6 billion in the last five years in Central America with regard to the root causes and the migration has increased, not decreased, so I’m not against dealing with the root causes but that’s not the issue. The issue is the pull factor. We went to Latin America, some of us here, including the Chairman recently and the presidents of the countries we visited, four of them, in Latin America, and Central America all said the same thing basically which is you guys are pulling our people north with your policies. So, you have a role to play there, you say you can’t speak to it, I hope you will speak to it because I think our own policies are largely the reason that you see this pull for the region and the illicit drugs are not produced in El Salvador but, boy it’s a major transit country for cocaine and heroin in particular. So, I hope if you are confirmed you will get involved in these issues and not just the root causes as important as they are. The Salvadorian Cooperation on Counter Drug and Anti-Gang Efforts, I assume you’re aware that we do not get the cooperation that we would like to have. Do you commit that you will work on increasing our level of cooperation in that area?”
Nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of El Salvador William Duncan: “Thank you, Senator. Yes, absolutely, counter narcotics has been one of the areas where we have had some success in our collaboration with the Salvadorians and if confirmed I would seek to do everything in my power to increase that collaboration we have also worked with them and are working with them I should say, on border intelligence, on alien smuggling, and I think those are areas that can even be expanded and that’s what I would seek to do if I was confirmed.”
Senator Portman: “I’ll have other questions in writing for your other colleagues, but again thank you for your willingness to serve. Thank you again, Mr. Chairman.”