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tv   Central American Migration Discussion at Migration Policy Institute...  CSPAN  October 28, 2019 9:28am-10:52am EDT

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campaign. cspan will award $100,000 in total cash prizes, plus a $5,000 cash prize. >> go get a camera, microphone and start building just the best video that you can possibly produce. >> visit for more information today. this day long immigration issue at the u.s.-southern border continues now with a look at why so many migrants from central america are heading to the u.s. and what can be done regionally to help the conditions in these countries. this is an hour 20 minutes. >> can you hear me? welcome back. you are all walking in, settling down. thank you. i just wanted to say a couple words about what we do here at george town in this field before i welcome my panel and introduce
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everybody. i'm andy schoen holtz. our students represent asylum seekers and deportation hearings. and actually handle a case from beginning to end for asylum seekers all over the world. my colleague pfizer saed is well and dina sharouk may be here. we have three lawyers each semester, 12 students, the clinic has been doing this for i guess 24 years. i think phil started the asylum part of this in 1995. we also have courses on immigration and refugee law as well as we started last year to send volunteers to texas to the two major detention facilities that are housing women with children, detaining women and
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children to help prepare the women for a credible fear interviews and to do other work to assist the families. and we are sending two groups again, 14 volunteers, we went to break and spring break down there, thanks to a georgetown alum who has funded that travel and we have a human rights bracket couple that has engaged on these issues for years. this year it's looking at the root causes of international immigration in our hemisphere and is examining one of the major issues to save their country issue. which brings us to our panel. because we thought it would be a good opportunity to hear from these experts, with respect to the humanitarian and migration crisis that has been going on the central america and the need for regional approaches.
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we have three experts who will give us different analyses to help address different parts of this problem and that is i've asked anthony fontes, who is a professor at american university, an expert on human security in central america to talk to us about those challenging issues. what is the securities situation? what are the challenges in trying to address it? there have been some attempts, not major attempts, but he's the expert. i will let him talk about those things. i think our community will really benefit from understanding more about how to address what's going on in the region in these countries, in particular. then, fortunately, we also have pary meyer, who is a director for mexico and market weiss at
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the washington office latin america. she has been laboring for many years in with focusing on these, this protection system in mexico to the extent it exists and she will talk to us about precisely what that's about. you heard this morning that because of the new transit, the third policy that the trump administration has put out more recently to try to deter asylum seekers from coming to the united states, the policy is that people in transit are now have to apply for asylum on the way. at least that's what the goal of that is. so we'll hear about how, what that really means in a country which has a -- has, we'll hear from the expert about that. i won't say more. finally, fortunately, we have the deputy regional
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representative for the u.s. and caribbean at the u.n. and high commissioner for the refugee's office and she will be talking about the regional approach, approaches i should say that would really benefit the abilities if of our entire international community to protect refugees who are fleeing from very serious harm. both in terms of the refugee convention and the declaration right which extends protection to refugee was are fleeing from very serious violent civil war, et cetera. this is a regional crisis. there are central american countries that have received many refugees as well and who are trying to or could use some help in addressing those needs. so, thank you very much, everybody, for coming. we will have some time for, of
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course, q&a. so let us begin with professor fontes who will talk to us about the security situation in the countries that he is particularly focused on in central america and thank you for being here. >> thank you, andrew. thank you very much and thanks so much for putting on this amazing venue. i think it's one of the most important conversations that could be happening in america right now. so we'll start with a little story. in july, 2016, i spoke with a 20-year-old guatemalan man wilmer in mexico looking to cross into the united states. for people like me, he said, my country is like a cage with no way out. we are waiting with dozens of other central americans to hop a northbound freight train. we all know this journey is dangerous, we might fail, we might die. but at least there is some hope at the end of it. so the little time i have here, i'm going to try to give you overview of the forces like
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wilmer feel so hopeless in their native lands and what might be done to resolve these issues. in my initial talk i will probably talk about the challenges and get to those solutions in the q&a. all right. so i'm going to focus on the making of the central american cage to push the metaphor to understand the complex played between poverty, violence and the drive out migration from the region. so i'm an ethnographer and in this talk i'm going to try to link my field work with the macro-processes that help understand. the evolution of violence and security. the persistence of poverty in the region and how both poverty and insecurity entwine in a myriad of ways in pushing individual cases about migration and trends in general. so the first thing to understand about the region is that
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northern triangle has long been a place where globally circulating violence and insecurity seem to become distilled and erupt in intensity. what is now known as old violence among people in the northern triangle, at the height of the cold war, over armed military governments if guatemala and el salvador train fund and given political cover by the united states engage in massive atrocities against mostly civilian populations were suspected of supporting insurgenesis towards the world governments. these insurgencies became involved they allowed them to engage in the most basic activities, forming elections, forming unions, learning to read. hearn heed the calls of the social movements, called a prepared vision of economic and political opportunities from a diverse range of voices, the over armed militaries in the
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1970s and '80s scorched earth campaigns claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. the bloodiest theater was gat mala where i have done most of my work. this also drove the first massive waves out of the regions in mexico and the occupation. those of us engaged in a long time, i think of parallels and echoes from that time with the situation that central americans face now. although now, the kind of violence that are taking place are very, very different. since the end of the cold war, the rise of what scholars called the new violence has really hit hard in the northern triangle, honduras, gat mallarguatemala, salvador. the rise has been criminal chaos in the words described by many observers in the region. this new violence is very difficult to pick apart. the legacies of armed conflicts are important. they haunt the post world order
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and end of armed conflict did not bring peace as we would imagine it. so through the 1990s, guatemala, el salvador and honduras saw a sharp rise in violence, in gat mala city, san pred dro, san salvadore, et cetera. this new violence is harder to diagnose. deposit officials and outside observers tend to gauge it through homicide accounts. in the 21st century honduras and guatemala reported the largest, coming in the top five consistently until the last few years where things have gotten moderately better at least in the counting of dead bodies. but, in a sense, so here's the 2018 homicide map in guatemala, you see the concentration of the highest murder rates in border regions. i will talk about that. it has much to do with the drug trade and the competition
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between different organizations for control of lucrative border crossings. el salvador is primarily affected by gang-related violence, the gangs are not as clear cut as the media and law enforce, violence is more equally spread through the country. then honduras is in many ways in between guatemala and el salvador, major issues of gang violence in urban centers as well as along major drug tracking corridors in the northern and western parts of the country. so, you know, homicide counts all well and good as a way of gauging what's happening in terms of violence. in a sense, these body counts obscure more than they reveal. as hard and fast as the numbers may seem. what makes this violence so terrifying to so many is its profound uncertainty, across the
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region less than 5% of crimes make it to trial, making the northern triangle a great place to commit murder. forces of order and disorder often make distorted reflections, at best the awe appears helpless and at worse police it, making murder, extortion, kidnapping robbery wrong and badly refined. the police make the factors with gangs and so on they are supposed to be bringing to justice. it's more a massacre, torture, dismemberment and other spectacular forms of violence that are literally made for the media consumption. make murder registered far and wide beyond its particular local. so the ccaucophony, in violent stricken communities warps this
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into every day realm of life. so, this uncertainty, this general sense that no one is to be trusted i think explains why, for example, homicide rates across the region have especially dropped, especially if you check out this image up here on buddhas which is essentially cut in half the number murdered 100,000 per year between 2013 and 2018. the fact is general levels of fear, paranoia and pervasive insecurity remain very, very high, in fact, almost untouched. the general population has no trust that their government can effectively combat crime much less count the dead and understand the state and its under worldco exist in deep symbiotic relationships. there is a strong sense that agents are a key player in crime and impunity as they are with estimates of police in payable organized crime ranging between
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30 and 60% in total. this makes for violent actor ecosystem. the -- those at the top are widely considered to be drug trafficking organizations. right? this is a map from 2016. i couldn't find one from more recently that was as telling. but things haven't changed much. but an estimation of the number of non-commercial boating incidents connecting the southern cone to the northern triangle and it's a way of measuring not the amount of coc going through the region. so the impunity, the criminal actors, especially the drug orgs enjoy is truly awe inspiring. and the drug traffickers are probably at the height of the very top end of the violent actor food cane in this part of the world. over the last 30 years, the u.s. war on drug has pushed the flow
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of cocaine and a list of commodities through honduras and guatemala away from the caribbean out of mexico and into primarily honduras and guatemala. today it's believed upwards 90% of the cocaine consumed by the north american nose comes to honduras and guatemalan territory. and the profits empower the drug trafficking circulated at every level of state power. so this is an image drawn from a work of my friend steven dudley inside crime at latin american university. it details the connection between the lead narco traffickers until his capture five or six years ago in the western part of the guatemala. it details his level of interaction and involvement and infiltration of the various levels of government, civil society, evangelical churches as
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well as local politics and local businesses as well. it's another example. this is the cachiros, a major drug trafficing in honduras has been captured and leader extra indicted. although the kingpin strategy doesn't work. it only leads to sort of more violence and competition between the surviving groups that are still there. this is a multi--billion dhar industry, so taking out the leaders only makes the underlings more ambitious. but this also details a circulation of power and influence between drug trafficking organizations and the powers that be in those particular countries. particularly a salient example of this is one orlando hernandez, president of honduras. he's a u.s. partner in signing a ridiculous third country agreement. my colleague will talk about. also his brother is facing a trial in new york involving narco trafficking.
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there is much talk that his, that juan orlando's or as he is known in hasn't dur ross ho has received at least a million dollars in funding from narco traffickers associated with his brother, allegedly. all right. the other sort of most, most invisible violent actors in central america are, of course, gangs. this is probably an image many of have you seen hins early '90s, the ms13, 18th street have sort of the very face of crime in the region. and for those of you that don't know, they are borne out of circular migration in central america. ms-13 have morphed into extortion machines in central america. especially in honduras. the ms13 is involved in urban drug market distribution. some say taking the place of the
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drug trafficking organizations that were taken out by u.s. da efforts and have sort of sub seouled a higher level of involvement in transnational traffic of cocaine. so, gangs like ms13 and the body primarily is an urban phenomenon. part of my work, much of my work is evolved in changing the evolution of gangs and a way of violence and society has been to try to get beneath that fans thatmick oracle behind bars by and large is a much smaller part in the gang population has been because of increased enforcement against people and so on and so forth. these days, an important thing to understand for asylum gangs is they are embedded in the communities of which they rule. you can't pull apart the police, the local community and the operation of the gangs, which is one of the reasons that makes it
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such a terrifying phenomenon. literally it's neighbors fighting and killinger that neighbors. so this is the gang extortion network, some 36 people indicted in this. these are mothers, daughters, sisters and wifes of incarcerated gang members involved in an extortion network. another gang member ms13 in a gat mallan prison. another young man 19 at the time. he has a typical pro typical face and an image he painted with his 4-year-old daughter in his visiting quarters in prison. so, these gangs have become the very face of crime as i said. an important criminal actors ordering life in areas they control. they're also a smoke screen. it's important to remember. a spectre invoked overed and over again by political actors who extract the populous, who
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extract outside observers from a host of structural factors that feed out of control and security. now, there's a tendency also to call the violence that's happening today non-state violence. i think that's a dangerous misnomer. because or even non-political violence. it's a mistake to imagine the state, guatemalan, honduran, el salvadoran state as having no part perpetuating the violence today. whether it's weakness or outright complicity, agents play key roles in feeding off the violent impunity that drives out migration. there is literally almost no way to draw the state apart from the criminal under world upon which it rests. all right. the so, now, poverty. poverty in the region remains as pressing if not quite as widespread as it was in the 1970s and '80s as when i said before, massive social movements helped drive armed insurrection.
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now, part of this issue is that there are no formal market jobs. in 2018, more than 300,000 central americans joined the labor pool, while there were 4,000 jobs, these were concentrated in urban areas. so that relegates the vast majority of central americans, especially rural central americans scraping by in this informal market. the economies, themselves, depend upon export of a few commodities, primarily u.s. markets and they employ a tiny fraction of the work force, tequila, sugar cane, some manufactured goods and one rising export industry is actually call centers for u.s. businesses. right, employing deportees because of their unaccented english. always an opportunity. right? all right. so, this general reliance on a few commodities meant for
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exports to primarily u.s. markets creates a society split between an extremely small and rich elite group at the top and masses at the bottom with a tiny sliver of a fairly desperate clinging to the middle. overall inequality in the region is stunning and it appears to be worsening. so one important pressure valve has always been for the last 30 years or so and growing in importance is remittances from the u.s. a recent study at interamerican dialogue found that remittances make up 50% of household incomes for one in three families in the region. one can only imagine what will happen when that life line starts slimming down, if the present administration's actions against immigrants continue. so, you know, this issue of this dichotomy between asylum seekers and economic migrants is something that plays a lot into
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discourse around -- against immigration and people are just coming to take jobs and so on and so forth. it's true that many people are going for economic reasons, but another man i met from honduras who was traveling through mexico said it was either immigrate or listen to my children crying because they're hungry. what would you do? to which i don't have a viable answer. so how do they entwine? a recent survey found one in four northern triangle citizens would like to immigrate. a lot more than actually do. the poorest of the poor can't afford the journey. the reasons they do immigrate are diverse. so while pressing poverty, especially in rural zones of guatemala is an important driver about migration, violence and poverty entwine in a variety of ways in each migrant's story. one phenomena i think bears looking at is the ways internal
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displacement because of violence often precedes the decision to actually leave the country. a decision that no one takes lightly. so one of the reasons is that, for example, this is a recent study from honduras. the people who lose their place in their particular neighborhood because of whether it's gang action or in some cases it's people being made landless pauf multi national corporation projects, socioeconomic being is so intensely tied to familial networks and the ability to be taken care of by extensive family and social networks in the place you are from. for poor central americans, you can't just leave where you are live and live somewhere else in the country. in my work i've heard many stories of people who were
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displaced by extortion, by a gang, left their neighborhood. tried to live in a rural area with extended family of some kind. eventually they wore out their welcome and could no longer sustain themselves with their family and had to leave the country. now, where does that fit into asylum law protocols even before the trump administration, right? it's a very difficult thing to sell because asylum law is a tiny door that holds up the big wall. but it's that combination of poverty and sustained collective widespread poverty that makes poverty the condition and experience with violence the spark that drives out migration. so i'll just end by saying that the caging of central america, this cage is only being reinforced by presenti policies. we're not reinforcing the bars of that cage by every metric imaginable, intensifying the forces that have driven migration in the first place. so the conditions are decades in
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the making and will only be resolved through sustained long-term engagement that involves the united states, the u.n. and other actors across the region. i'm happy to talk about those things in the q & a. >> thank you for this. i'm sure there will be some good questions about that follow-up. before i ask maureen to start talking i forgot to do a housekeeping matter. for those who happen to have brought in drinks, even though apparently that's not allowed, if you have, will you please take them from the edges of the -- thank you so much. i'm here to protect those who are below you right now. thank you very much. appreciate it. okay, maureen, please. >> thank you. >> the floor is yours. >> thanks to georgetown law for the invitation to speak at this annual conference, which we always find very interesting. so anthony looked at lot at why people are leaving central america. i was asked to look at what happens to those that are on their journey or that ending up staying in mexico.
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mexico is that sandwich country a lot of times between central america and then for a lot of people what they originally viewed as their main destination, which is the united states. and sort of looking at what is mexico's protection capacity right now and then what are the limitations that they're facing, particularly as it relates to central american asylum seekers. obviously what we've seen in the past few months has been a dramatic increase in apprehensions in mexico, again, and a real shift from when we saw the mexican president elected last december, policies of being a welcoming country, looking at alternatives for people to stay and work in mexico to mostly a response to u.s. threats and pressure dramatically cracking down on immigration and migrants in transit through the country. they have apprehended as of august of this year over 144,000 migrants in transit. 85% from central america. if you look at how much bigger
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this is than last year. if you compare those same eight months, it's a 67% increase from one year to the next. so they have dramatically again, i would say, because it's not the first time mexico has increased apprehension in response to u.s. pressure, but they have dramatically increased apprehensions. but at the same time and what's sort of different than what we saw when they had originally increased their apprehensions in 2014-15 with mexico's southern border program is the dramatic increase in asylum requests. so last week the mexican refugee agency, the commission to support refugees released the most recent numbers, which is from january to december to september, sorry, of this year. mexico received 54,377 asylum requests. and this is a little bit over three times more than they received all of last year. if you look back, just like how big of an increase this is, in 2015, so just four years ago, mexico received only 3,424
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asylum requests. so we have over 54,000 now compared to just a couple thousand a few years ago, so it's a huge increase for a country that really didn't feel the pressure to stand up an effective asylum system until very recently. then why is it there are so many more people seeing mexico as a possibility or a destination? i think there's many reasons, not just in response to the united states. one is there has been increased outreach in central america and mexico. but it's really hard to go to southern mexico right now and not see at migrant shelters posters about here, this is your right to seek protection. there are migrant shelters throughout mexico that actively screen migrants and educate asylum seekers. here's your rights. you might be able to request protection in mexico. here's how. there's also a much broader network of organizations and lawyers. also supported by unhcr that can
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provide that legal guidance and assistance that you didn't have a few years ago. so one is that kind of knowledge th of mexico as a destination country. there are more shelters and organizations and others able to support asylum seekers. i think another factor is word of mouth and successful settlement. i was in chappas in august and we were outside the detention center talking to asylum seekers. they have to go every week and have their papers signed that they're continuing with their asylum claim. speaking to several, especially from honduras, if they had their asylum claim resolved favorably, they were going to stay in mexico. oh, yeah, we have friends and i heard i can get a job so you're starting to see more people that know people that have successfully settled in mexico. so i think they believe it's an option for them. and then lastly, obviously, is the increasing obstacles people are facing to receive protection in the united states.
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and i think that is also word of mouth but also a reality. i think if you look at even what's happening in northern mexico with thousands and thousands of people being forced to wait for an appointment with the united states in very precarious conditions to those that are being sent back to mexico through the so-called migrant protection protocols or remain in mexico program, more and more we don't have numbers on it right now but from organizations on the northern border that will say more people are deciding to opt to request asylum in mexico because it's become so difficult to stay or wait for an appointment in the united states and it's so dangerous in those border towns, wanting to see where else they can move and see mexico as a destination. so what are the obstacles they may face if they decide to do that? some are legal and some are just in practice and others are resource based. i think one just looking at mexico's legal system, currently it's not easy to request asylum in mexico. you have a 30-day limit from the time you enter the country to when you have to apply for
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asylum. it's being challenged in the mexican supreme court. the other is you need to stay in the state where you requested asylum because you have to appear every eight days or 15 days to have your asylum paper signed, meaning you're continuing with your claim. most of these are requesting in chappas. they have 66% of all of mexico's asylum claims. so you're in an area where even though technically you should be able to get a humanitarian visa, that's really backlogged and there's an accumulation of people in mexico's poorest state, 70% of the population there live in poverty, so there isn't really an adequate system to support people waiting for their claims to be processed. you are in places that are not adequate to support you while you're waiting for adequate housing, health care, education,
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et cetera. the other just even practices by mexican officials are what their interpretation of their responsibilities. so even if you approach a port of entry in southern mexico, you will be facing time in detention before you're allowed to continue with your asylum claim. so it's not as if you are going to be -- the only way you're actually allowed to pursue asylum without being apprehended is if you're lucky enough to reach a shelter or office before you get apprehended. very few people given increased enforcement are not facing at least weeks in pretty awful detention center conditions that have continuously been documented as having lack of access to medical care, appropriate food, overcrowding, and i think even more so now as a result of mexico's increased enforcement. so you have a very limited alternative detention program. about 8,000 people have been released from detention based on a program that the mexican immigration agency has to
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release people but a lot of times you'll be in detention for the entire time your claim is taking place, which is technically 45 days but can be months right now. so you're faced with a lot of obstacles. the last on that is lack of proper screening. there's a citizen commission of mexico's immigration agency that had a monitoring commission that found overall that mexican government priorities are to detect, detain and deport people and not really looking at protection. the majority of the people interviewed in this mission reported never having received information about their right to apply for protection in mexico or they didn't understand what they were receiving. i think that's the other is just the lack of clarity and obstacles placed on them by mexican officials. you don't want to request asylum. if you do, it's going to be a long time, you can't access a lawyer. it's really difficult to get access to legal assistance in
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detention. you almost have to know who to ask for from organizations. so huge obstacles even if you want to request asylum to be able to do so in mexico. this means about 10% of asylum claims in mexico don't pursue it and another 20% to 25% of those abandon their claims either because they're tired of being in detention or can't stay out on the streets and support their family or feel they don't have any option to stay in mexico. that said, i think mexico has started to make progress on its asylum system. certainly the unhrc is a lot to do that. they have named the head of the immigration agency that has a lot of history and knows what needs to be done to strengthen their system. looking at how do you increase training for your staff, how do you increase resources. we are seeing more cases being resolved favorably. they had mentioned that mexico abides by the declaration that has the definition of someone
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being threatened by generalized violence or massive violations of human rights as possible conditions to receive asylum. they are starting to apply that definition more and more. it's been pretty much a blanket application for venezuelans. almost 100% get asylum in mexico. in 2017 only about half of the asylum seekers from honduras were getting refugee status or protection, like a complimentary protection. this past year it's increased 81% so you're seeing more and more people successfully getting protection in mexico. i think in all of this, unhcr support has been critical both in increasing the capacity to increasing civil society capacity. i will let you talk more about that, but i think what we have not seen is a real commitment so far even with the new government in mexico to designate mexican
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resources to strengthening and building up an asylum system. a few years ago it was a joke they had 15 asylum officers for the whole country. even now today they have about 48 like full-time mexican paid staff. the budget that they got this year with a new government that's promising significant shifts and prioritizing humanitarian had a budget for an agency facing 54,000 requests. you would think next year they have a bigger budget. the budget proposal only increases by $300,000. so the unhcr commission was in mexico about two weeks ago. they had great meetings with the mexican minister of interior, with immigration agency, with the foreign ministry, and they're all talk of having a tradition of receiving refugees, of being a country that's
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hospitable. it's not yet reflected in their budget priorities. that's the biggest challenge. you cannot have an entire asylum system supported by the unhcr and civil society organizations doing the work to screen asylum seekers. the head of the agency knows of these budget shortfalls. he believes they need six times the current resources to have the staff they need, to have the training they need. we met with the staff, facing 60% of the claims. they are tired, they work 12 hours days, they're paying for their own paper. it's a real crisis, i think, and the system has been repeatedly alerted as being on the verge of collapse even by mexicoes human rights commission last year. you need to designate more resources to it. that's mexico's biggest challenge. the system itself is government commitment to making it work.
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we believe you need the government to start designating more resources. then just lastly, a few things to consider about mexico as an asylum country. one is mexico is not safe for all asylum seekers, particularly from the northern triangle. there's been many cases or concerns that given geographical proximity, percesecutors pursui people, you know when they're waiting outside the komar agency, every day there's people visibly waiting to have their papers signed so it's easy for people to cross the border and go after you. especially with women, victims of domestic violence linked to criminal organizations in central america, the lbgti community has been persecuted and that's a particularly vulnerable population. and mexico isn't safe for a lot of asylum seekers or migrants in transit. there have been high numbers of crimes against migrants in
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transit. the criminal justice system has 100% impunity for crimes against migrants. less than 1% of crimes that were reported were actually investigated for crimes against migrants. there's a surge in mexicans that are requesting asylum in the united states. that's one of their big challenges, the security crisis in parts of mexico and populations that really probably wouldn't be adequately protected given their own characteristics or geographic proximity to their country of origin. the others are more integration challenges. a lot of organizations that support refugees talk about the fact that people who get refugee status in mexico still struggle with having adequate housing, health care, education, having their documents recognized by mexican employers as being valid. and i think even where you have cities that have been targeted and where they have worked to move people out of southern mexico, even then you have a lot
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of jobs in the factories. they don't pay that well either. so that economic struggle. i was talking to a head of a shelter and he said some refugees still come to the shelter on sundays to get a good meal. so there's still that sort of challenge. there is challenge of the mexican population that has less than 1% foreign born as a country to really effectively view refugees and asylum seekers as constructive, important parts of their society. in fact i think what we've seen this year is a very unfortunate sense of xenophobia in mexico from protests to not having -- wanting the komar office down noun. to even my uber driver was very resentful that the administration was going to offer jobs to people from
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central america. what's mexico's reception capacity and that also needs to include how do you work with mexican societies so they become much more welcoming and willing to have that broader refugee population living in their communities. so i think i would leave it at that. >> thank you very much, maureen. chiara, if you would round this out talking about the regional approaches and unhcr's engagement. >> well, thank you very much. thank you for having us here talking about this very important subject. my understanding is that you talked about the problem, the source and maureen talked a bit about what is being done. my job is to set it in context and talking a bit about what can be done on a regional level to try and address this problem. i wanted to start talking a bit about something that i think exemplifies best this continent because we have a crisis in central america, but we also have a crisis going on at the
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moment which are much bigger. in a sense, the continent puts forward some of the best practices we have and some of the worst practices we have on responsibility sharing, which i think it's really the underpinning of what has enabled the international protection regime. the fact that when there is a big problem, it can be a problem of one country but many have to come together and help each other out and try to find solutions. that has worked. it's worked all over the world for many, many years. not perfectly, with many, many problems but certainly has enabled at least to stay afloat despite the big syrian crisis. and has helped africa to do the same in many circumstances. it has helped this continent. a few years ago we didn't have a venezuela. today we have over 4.2 million venezuelans who have left their countries in 16 countries. of course we hear about
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venezuela but we don't hear as much troubles as we hear about central america. that is because despite all the problems and despite a huge number, 16 countries have come together to find a way to share the responsibility in a humane manner and in a way that really reflects the responsibility of the continent. of course there are challenges there too, but we can certainly say that there has been a display of hospitality in the context of venezuela that has been in my view remarkable. if we just think about what colombia has done, receiving over 1.2 million people, despite the fact they have 7 million idps still in their country. so a remarkable display of solidarity there and something that i think is to be sort of looked at when we are looking at how to resolve large-scale refugee and migrant flows. the second example that we very little talk about is nicaragua. today costa rica has received over 120,000 asylum applications all alone and is doing it all
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alone. that is another very remarkable show of good will and willingness to sort of do the right thing and with very little help, i must add. there has been some support to costa rica but nearly not enough for what it has taken on. so these are two examples of sort of country rolling up their sleeves and saying, okay, we have a problem and how do we resolve it and how do we talk about it. there is a regional platform that is responding. there is real concrete actions on the ground that i think we can look at. when it comes to the northern triangle, it has been -- i honestly have been speaking about this subject for the past six years now. the problems are the same, they haven't changed. the same drama persists. we still have a problem on narrative, which is still incredible, but there is still people wondering whether people leaving from central america are refugees, which is hard to believe when you see what happens to these people. there's still a problem of
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infrastructure where asylum seekers are a nacent. we have a problem but if we look at many other countries but wore not there. guatemala is not there, belize is not there and so on. so we still have a few countries sort of taking on a lot of the responsibility for the refugee flows. so if there is the setting a little bit of what we have, what have we done? what have we tried to do? for the past let's say six years now, we have been stressing the need for a regional approach, that this problem requires a multi-faceted response of a regional extent that brings everybody together to look at source countries to figure out a way to manage this in a more coherent manner. so we have launched sort of what
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we call a comprehensive response framework for central america that brings together seven countries and that has brought sort of from a political perspective seven countries together to really look at what needed to be done. this was four years ago. and sort of looking at what needed to be done in el salvador, guatemala and honduras in terms of managing the displacement i mentioned there. so what were some of the programs that needed to be launched to really try and look at communities that were at high risk and how do we try and help youth and children and women who are living in those neighborhoods. how do we stabilize population there in the best possible way. then we had discussions about how do we strengthen the asylum system across the region so they can be better equipped to deal with asylum applications and provide protection and of course we have been talking about solutions. what kind of solutions can we make available to people who are
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taking very, very -- lots of risks to come to this country, in particular to find protection. and so through this approach and quite a lot of investment, both at the political level but also the operation level, unhcr has opened offices to help governments in providing responses. some of the data that maureen was pointing to, the fact that today we have a very high number of asylum applications is not coinciden coincidence. there are a lot of refugees but also now refugees can make asylum applications. something that was not possible four years ago. i remember five years ago there was families living in camps in parks under the stars literally and had no idea where to seek asylum. so today that's no longer the picture that we have in mexico. we're far from being close to perfection, but certainly mexico is offering a set of facilities that wasn't happening or weren't
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offering yesterday. same goes with costa rica, which has made massive steps forward. and of course with a smaller country like belize and guatemala. for example, guatemala is a small country, obviously has its own problem. i think you have it quite well explained what those programs are but it is slowly but surely becoming a country of asylum. it has doubled its applications for the past couple of years. not for everybody, but for some that is the case. so we are seeing some result in terms of the number of people that are approaching unhcr and approaching governments. we're seeing a much larger shelter network throughout the region. over 80 shelters, new shelters have been developed throughout the region over the past few years. we're seeing asylum system that are not perfect for sure but certainly starting to move and function in a way that they were not functioning just a few years
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ago. and we are looking at more and more people being granted protection and being adjudicated in a favorable way, which i think is important data. now, this regional framework has also brought into the mix a lot of political actors. uas, for example, is about to launch a transfund to support countries developing programs. we are seeing more and more political buy-in into this framework. but the reality is that the investment in this region have been very, very limited for the problem that it's facing. so as much as unhcr and many other civil society actors are trying to do their best. we still have a situation in front of us where investment has been minimal. the notion of we have a protection problem, we need to resolve it is still from being tackled in the right way. there are various initiatives under way. some more complex than others.
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but the reality is that we're still not there and countries are still very much struggling with what they need to do. so i would leave it at that in terms of sort of the overall picture and perhaps we can have a conversation and respond to questions. >> excellent, thank you very much, chiara. so i'll invite people to come forward to ask questions, to go to any mic if you'd like to. please, when you ask questions, identify yourselves. and if you're asking it to a particular panelist, please do that. so take your time, but in the meantime because i'm a professor, i'll ask some questions. but please do come forward because i'll stop as soon as i see you, honestly, and i already see somebody coming. i didn't have to go that far. could you introduce yourself. >> my name is john ashley. i'm sorry, i asked a question at panel one but i'm sitting on the aisle so i can get up.
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if anybody has a question they want to pass on. this is for anthony fontes. there have been people who have said that it's american demand that drives the drug trade. i mean if we didn't demand it, there wouldn't be the kind of money pouring into the gangs. the cartels have got more money than law enforcement does. they have better weapons. they have armor-piercing stuff and they will kill anybody who gets in their way. so there has been a proposal, why don't you legalize all these drugs in the united states, have the government make them nice and cheap, pure, synthetic. you can go to the drugstore to cvs, buy a little bag of cocaine for 25 cents -- >> i think this question is for the utopia panel. >> nobody could impress their girlfriend with i can blow $10,000 on blow and here's a couple of hundred dollar bills
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to blow it up your nose and then we'll go have sex in the swimming pool. if you can get it from the cvs and if you take the money away, you take the corruption away. i don't know if it's practical or not, but is in part of that possible? >> great question. >> that was not the question i was going to ask. >> as i said, you know, the solution -- when the solutions that are available might be utopian but that's what we're here to discuss, right? in terms of -- in all that detail you gave, you're correct on a lot of different fronts. i would say that, yes, the amount of money being brought in by drug trafficking organizations is tantamount to the gdps of these countries, given the extensive poverty, it's one of the major money-making -- ways to make money, especially for the poor in the country. it's also deeply embedded in the
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moral economies of places, right? so i know that especially along the border regions where narco traffickers have operated for generations, since the '70s and it's only grown, they're seen at benefactors by large swaths of the population. so in a sense -- and there have been movements actually under former president perez molina in the early 2010s made noise about legalizing the traffic of cocaine through guatemala. in retrospect it was just to get the clinton state department to come down and give more money, which it worked as well. they started some dialogue between other countries. the u.s. came in, no, no, no, no, no. don't do that. here's some money to help fight the drug problem. i don't think that eliminating -- if you could all of a sudden magically wave a waun wand and eliminate the money coming in for drug traffickers, it wouldn't resolve the deep problems of elite impunity in the country or deep corruption in the country.
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it would cause a lot of chaos at first. and the real problem, i think the drug trafficking organization, legalization and ending u.s.-led war on drugs policies is a first step. now, that would have to come from the united states, right? it couldn't just happen in these countries. so what's the state of play in terms of legalization of cocaine in the u.s. or methamphetamine or even opioids, which increasingly in guatemala is one of the major cash crops being developed there. i think it's a nonstarter, right, in terms of actually getting any u.s. administration on either side of the aisle to really push for an endi to the war on drugs policies. outside of utopic imaginings, i don't think that's possible. the other thing is to me the problem goes deeper than the drug traffickers. it's really about decades of -- centuries of a tiny elite holding on to power by whatever
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means possible and making sure that no government entities can interfere with what they're doing. i'll give you an example. guatemala has the lowest tax rate in the hemisphere, right? 12% flat tax, which everyone does their best not to pay. this is because of an elite rule that has gone on and been held up and given political cover by the united states, especially during the cold war, that has made it -- and that impunity for the elite, the ways that they have been able to protect their interests gets into, for example, the banking system. so extortion is one of the major problems and run by gangs. and feeding off poor communities. much of the extortion now happens literally with people making deposits in bank accounts. when i talk to attorney generals and people who work -- the good guys in the a.g.'s office in guatemala and talk about the problem of extortion, which is one of the major forces driving out migration because of violence in the region, they say
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the hardest thing in tracking down extortion isn't even finding witnesses or going after the gangs, it's getting the banks to give up their information because there's no financial oversight laws because of elite rule saying no one could look into how they're dealing with their money. not that i'm side-stepping your question. i would love if we could do exactly what you just described. but at the end of the day -- >> solve the problem he meant. >> right. right. it's more doable, more viable, the core of the issue would be increasing oversight of transactions, elite transactions that go far beyond just drug trafficking. >> very helpful. thank you very much. we have two colleagues on this side. please introduce yourself and ask your first question. >> my name is valerie la count. my question isn't as interesting as the previous one.
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i wanted to know more information about vulnerable groups amongst the migrants. i know maureen touched upon that earlier. but for instance, we talked about the limited capacity of mexico to deal with migrants and even though we tend to focus on the u.s. and how harsh some of the policies are right now, mexico has its own history as well when it comes to -- i'm thinking about afro descendant populations from honduras, from guatemala, indigenous populations that may not even speak spanish and who are coming through mexico. there was a case of emil colon who was released in 2014 after staying five years in pretrial detention in mexico and he was a member of a community in honduras. so i'm wondering are there people that we're not even capturing right now?
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earlier i heard in a panel that africans, so extra regional migrants, are even being stopped at the southern border of mexico. are there groups from the information that you have that are particularly being targeted by harsher methods? thank you. >> i think anyone stuck feels pretty vulnerable given the precarious situation they're in and very easily targeted. even central americans are fairly identifiable by mexicans. i think there's just a general targeting central americans and migrants in transit. i think domestic violence victims, there's a lot of women fleeing central america and girls because of interfamilial violence and feel persecuted, and others is unaccompanied children. we interviewed children from hondur honduras. one girl i remember she had been basically forced into working
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prostitution from the gangs. fled to mexico, escaped a kidnapping attempt and then was offered asylum. she was 15 and her mom was in the united states. so these other conditions where there are people that maybe could qualify for protection in mexico but that's not necessarily in their best interests given you're going to be under mexican state custody until you're 18. so that vulnerable group of children traveling on their own. i would say there is a large african and extra continental population that is pretty much stuck in mexico right now. that's what we've seen in terms of the media lately. it has to do with some changes to how mexico has applied its visa system lately. i think for extra continentals and for cubans, which was up until a few months ago, if you were from a country that didn't have a very good consular presence in mexico or a country that didn't want to receive its population like the cubans up until recently, then mexico wasn't sure what to do with you
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if you're coming from congo and so they would give you an exit visa. or the cubans say like a safe passage to get to the border and it was good for 20 to 30 days and you could get anywhere in mexico. they decided under pressure to change that visa and particularly we saw in august where now you are issued an exit visa but to go to southern mexico. you have to leave through the southern mexico so there's no possibility for them to goal farther north without being detected. it doesn't feel like mexico is the right place for them to be requesting protection, whether it's because they have no cultural language affinities to mexico. there's a lot of african population that might fit there. the cubans, their main destination is the united states so i think there's basically a lack of response right now from the mexican government to what other options this population might have that doesn't want to request protection in mexico
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that really just wants to keep going but really has no way to safely and humanely do that right now. it is a big challenge that we have not gotten a clear answer from the mexican government of what else they could offer or do to support that population. i'm not sure if you have any thoughts about that as well but there are certainly people that are particularly vulnerable and we also see the same thing with the mpp or the people being stuck at the mexican border returned from the united states. we have lots of vulnerable people that shouldn't be in that program that are sent back to mexican border towns that are also vulnerable given their conditions and how they're traveling. >> perhaps to add at least from our perspective, perhaps the most vulnerable groups of people currently, especially in mexico, is the transsex and lgbti community both because in the detention center but also outside the level of violence remains quite high. it is specifically for them that we have pushed very hard to set
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up a program to make sure that they could sort of find some protection without having to walk across borders and sort of put themselves further at risk. i guess for me the largest vulnerable is unaccompanied children who are in mexico and for whom there are very few solutions, particularly those who have family members here and were aiming to come to the united states because they have parents or extended family members here. so for those we have now for a number of years advocated to set up some sort of alternative legal pathway to the united states specifically because we felt that these children were in any case coming here, will make their way here so we might as well do that in an orderly, organized and safe place for children so this discussion has been going on for quite some time now. >> i have three questioners now. we'll start again on this side because i'm just watching as
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people come down and taking them in order. >> thank you. my name is avalio. basically when last fall when the trump administration suspended aid to central american countries, there was actually like a cbp report last september which actually mentioned that a lot of the people who are migrating from rural guatemala are being forced to migrate due to climate change affecting agriculture there. one of the factors was like a fungus which affects the coffee plants and is leading to declining yields and people not being able to support themselves. so my question was more like we obviously talk about the effects of violence how that's shaping people have to migrate from other regions, but climate change being now a major cause for a different means leading people to migrate and on the
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other hand we see that basically increasing restrictions like on what conditions and reasons people can claim asylum for as we see in the u.s. now and also like restriction of like many people who apply for asylum as being branded as economic migrants, how do we move ahead and be able to solve these basically intersecting challenges where it's not very clear to define as in who's a refugee and who's not and there could be multiple factors leading to people migrating. thank you. >> adding to the complexities. so i believe that these problems have been there for a very, very long time in terms of the complexities of the flows. i'm not an expert in the economic situation of these countries so i will not talk to
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that but i do know that it does play a part in the decision of people to move on and try to find solutions to a better life and for their families, et cetera. from our perspective, there has to be a sustained investment in the northern triangle if we are to see people actually establishing life in these countries and staying there because i don't think anybody wants to leave their homes if they can stay there, right, and that of course has been jeopardized over recent times by having a much more sort of strict approach to the funding availability to these countries. so that's a real challenge and a real challenge that we very often bring to the table when we discuss with everybody involved, particularly saying that unhcr can only do so much if the problem is not addressed at the core and the root.
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we are going to continue sort of addressing the impact rather than the problem itself. so that is a fundamental issue. unless there is a structured way of addressing the challenges in this country from a climate change perspective, from a law and order perspective, from a broader institutional perspective and some of the challenges that you were discussing, anthony, i think we are not going to -- in ten years we are still talking about the same issues altogether and that will not take us very far. so that is certainly at the root, as it is for all situations. when you have mass displacement, there's always a number of factors leading to that. if you look at venezuela, we have a very similar situation where it's a mixed flow. you have certainly people who are fleeing for protection-related reasons but you also have people fleeing because there has been a collapse of the state in many ways. so yeah, looking at root causes and investment in these
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countries is certainly -- investing in everything from looking at how the country is being managed to how -- the type of corruption, the issue linked to cartels and drug trafficking. all of that has to be looked at a very serious manner. the rest of us can only put band-aids on the problem. >> thank you. i would just add asylum is a little door that holds up the big wall. it's always only let in a trickle of people, defined by a very strict and often very strict categories that don't often line up with the reality of what makes people leave their country in the first place. as well it only deals with the worst case scenarios that asylum becomes an option. you mentioned in terms of cutting off of u.s. aid to these countries as sort of a big stick to make them do something. what, who knows really, right? but i think there's a number of small ways -- even i won't call them small or subtle, but ways that are less advertised that
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the u.s. has been in the recent past supporting positive change in the region that have evaporated under this administration without a whole lot of attention. so what comes to my mind is the now ended program of -- the commission against impunity in guatemala which was a u.n.-supported body of literally going after the elites and elite power that i've been talking about before. brought one president down, exposed huge corruption scandals among the guatemalan elite that was making systematic and structural changes in how the guatemalan elite were able to do business and had broad popular support. the last president threatened to take away his mandate. vice president biden and the state department said if you do that, we're cutting off funding and it stayed. three years later, president
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jimmy morales, who's like a little trump, a comedian made-for-tv character, he was starting to get sniffed out by ccig and tracking him down. when he threatened to get rid of them along with a lot of congressmen, the u.s. did nothing and sort of looked the other way, right? just that, that single looking away is going to cause untold sort of reversals in the little bit of progress that's been made towards reinning in elite impunity. so it doesn't have to involve massive progressmatic investments and just continuing on with some of the programs that have succeeded gives sense for people in the region that there is hope. i think that preservation even, invention and resurrection of some sort of hope for people in the region is key to actually stemming these flows and making people invest in the places
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where they are in ways that are possible. >> thank you, anthony. so we have six minutes left and we have three questioners and they're all going to get to ask a question, but i'm good at math so i know how to do this. please, if each of you would ask your questions now and then i think we'll just have the panel take them in and respond as the final sort of round of comments if that's okay with you. >> thank you. my name is julia toro, i'm an immigration lawyer that's trying to help people fight these dhcas that our immigration judges don't believe the corruption, they don't believe the police are corrupt, they don't believe there is not internal replacement. they don't get that the gangs have infiltrated everything. so in my entire practice and studies when i was in law school, we've got to look at the
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long-term picture. one of you had mentioned long term we have to see how can we fix this because it's not a border solution, it's not an overnight solution, and so someone had mentioned there's got to be greater investment. and so more nations have to be invested. it can't just be the u.s. worried about this. more nations invested. but practically speaking, you know, who's going to invest? how can we get people to invest? how can we change this cycle of trying to elect someone for an overnight fix or whoever is in charge now thinks that a wall and crocodiles are going to solve the problem and it's not, we know that. so long-term fixes, who do we go to to say you've got to do -- are we talking u.s. politicians? are we talking u.n. officials? are we talking -- what is going to resolve this u.s. long-term fix so it's not the u.s. putting a puppet leader into a new country which has been the problem and the history that we know. and so for the investments, who's making these investments
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to improve these situations. >> thank you. >> hello. i'm daniel costa with the economic policy institute. i think my question is sort of a narrow one mostly directed at maureen and chiara. one of the tools in the policy toolbox has been issuing work permits to asylum seekers in countries of destination and one administration was giving them out for a while and they stopped. it's been hard to get good information about it. the reporting has been sort of sparse. it's even harder to get information about it from people who are in mexico. so i'm just wondering, can you offer any additional context about how that's worked, what's happened. are offices working together to push governments to do that and make it more common? what's been the experience? anything you can offer along those lines. >> great question, thanks.
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and our third question? >> hi, i'm connor, at the center for democracy in americas. i wanted to ask, the current administration has chosen to cut foreign assistance to central america. what are the long-term effects we're going see from that, mostly in terms of poverty, displacement and violence. thank you. >> thank you, okay. so who would like to start? sure, go ahead. >> let's talk about positive things. so work permits. so we have seen that mexico has made a point of developing what we call a local integration program pretty much in the areas maureen was discussing. for the first time we're actually seeing that asylum singhe seekers and refugees who are legally residing in merxico are able to stay in mexico with a
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work permit and also integrated into the labor market through a job placement system that the unhcr and government of mexico are working together and has been successful. in terms of retention rates and making sure companies abide by a set of standards when it comes to employment standards. there are, of course, also examples like the one maureen explained earlier that in certain circumstances refugees are finding themselves in working sectors that are not high paying, but overall what we have seen is that we have an 85% retention rate of people who have been sort of channelled into these employment scheme and it has also been coupled with insertion for children whose parents have been placed in this new employment schemes, also for children to have access to education and sort of making sure that we are stabilizing the
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family and making sure that the parents are able to work and the children are able to go to school. so that's been really positive. that's very much coming out of this regional framework that i was talking about earlier where mexico has committed to development of this integration program. i must say that it has certainly been a very good example of a country that is trying to do something to actually stabilize population where they have sought protection. the other good example is guatemala. the government has just announced recently as part of this regional framework they would issue work permits for people that are refugees in guatemala. obviously we have a different scenario in guatemala than in mexico, but nonetheless it is a step in the right direction. >> there's actually work for those -- >> that's what i was trying to say in a diplomatic manner. >> well, you're the diplomat
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here. >> i was trying to say clearly we have different economic realities but the fact that the government is willing to share whatever they have, it's not a negative thing. >> thank you for clarifying. clearly the international community has a lot to do. yes. maureen. >> sure. i think there's a few things with these work permits. there's one when you're applying you can apply for a humanitarian visa to allow you to work but humanitarian visas are their own category as a visa that this government used a very liberal interpretation the first few months of the year like for public use, interest to provide this many people with humanitarian visas. over 20,000 people in the first two months of this year got humanitarian visas because there was the caravans coming through. the mexican government wasn't feeling that it could adequately address that population in a short period of time so let's get them visas and they can work here. they have to be renewed every six months to a year. humanitarian visas, traditional
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categories for victims of violent crime so they can pursue their complaints against aggressors. so that was one of the main purposes actually. they have used it in other categories. a lot of haitians got humanitarian visas in tijuana when they were stuck after the obama administration stopped issuing them for haitians. they have per month how many humanitarian visas are being issued so if you look for data, i can give that to you. i think there is a clearer thing of disconnect between labor shortages in mexico and maybe a need. i was speaking to someone from one of mexico's biggest medium to bigger size corporations who understanding they need to do better to match where they might have labor shortages to needs. the mexican government so far has more minimal programs in southern mexico, a very small program for employment opportunities for central american migrants.
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we have not seen that out at all in a mass scale. and just to comment on what can be done here and what's happening with the united states and assistance, i think the u.s. congress has been probably the best backstop to the administration's worst intentions in terms of slashing all aid to central america. this assistance does and had been working to look at climate change adaptability, to rule of law programs, to evidence-based violence prevention programs to good governance. congress has worked to make sure next year you can't stop. they're working to try to not allow that to happen again, aid not to be cut and that's one area where the u.s. congress continues to push on the need to support central america, on the need to support anti-corruption efforts in central america and trying to push members of congress in this context to keep doing that and look at root causes of migration from central america. >> last word, anthony. i know we're beyond our time. >> so i'll just take on the long-term fix issue and get off
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professorial for a second. what's happening in central america is at least 50 years in the making. 50 years of sustained u.s. policy supporting the powers that have kept the status quo more or less what it is, from toppling the president in guatemala to supporting scorched earth campaigns and genocide in guatemala and el salvador 30 years later. so it's taken a sustained effort to keep things -- make things this bad. it's going to take a sustained effort to over an equal amount of time, as chiara was saying, not ten years but another generation to actually do anything to resolve what's happening now. echoing things that have been brought up in prior panels, these problems have been going on for a long time. the crisis at the u.s. border is in many ways an 'em nation, a spectacularization of problems going on for generations and the u.s. has accepted sustain in all
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sorts of ways. i believe it's a moral responsibility and also a pragmatic need that what goes around comes around. the crucible of central america exploded in the '80s because of conditions that were unlivable. i think those conditions are being repeated again in a way that is much harder to pick apart and understand. but unless something is done on a long-term sustained basis, then this continued -- this is going to continue to cause major disruption and suffering in central america and it's going to echo out for generations across the region. >> thank you very much. please join me in thanking these experts. [ applause ] and we're back at 3:45. please be back here on time so we can get going then for our last panel.
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the national league of cities releases a report today on the state of the nation's cities. they have analyzed budget resuln 500 cities and fill vamgz. live coverage begins at 12:15 p.m. the heritage foundation held a discussion with robert which will kooi on improvements at the department of veterans affairs. you can watch that at 8:00 eastern. following that at 9:00, a u.s. house hearing on gun violence. went to chicago to learn p the gun violence. lawmakers heard from doctors, a funeral home owner and a woman who lost her son and brother in law. here on c-span 3. tuesday the senate commerce
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science and transportation hearing examining the boeing 737 max following two international accidents. boeing's president and ceo denis mullenberg and john hamilton. watch live tuesday at 10:00 a.m. online on or listen live with the free radio app. the house will be in order. >> for 40 years c-span has been providing america unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court, and public policy events from washington, d.c. and around the country, so you can make up your own mind. created by cable in 19 sfie


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