WATERTOWN — Former state Sen. H. Douglas Barclay, who previously served as ambassador to El Salvador, cited economic disparity and violence as key drivers of what many call an immigration crisis at the southern border.
Mr. Barclay, Pulaski, also called for improved security of the southern border to deter mass immigration to the U.S. during his speech Wednesday at a meeting of the Watertown Noon Rotary Club.
Mr. Barclay focused primarily on conditions of El Salvador when discussing the issue, which he called a humanitarian crisis. The Central American country has a gross domestic product per capita of $3,900, while the U.S. has a GDP per capita of $59,000. Mr. Barclay said increasing a country’s GDP can improve its quality of life.
“The migration of Latin America to our southern border is happening for financial reasons, he said. “You can see why Salvadorians want to come to the United States for a better quality of life. El Salvador’s population is about 6.5 million, and there are about a million Salvadorians in the U.S., which many are here illegally.”
Violence in the country has also influenced Salvadorians to flee the country and relocate the U.S., Mr. Barclay said, adding that violence also inhibits GDP growth.
“The Salvadorians are friendly, very bright, but they have this violence that they can’t control,” he said. “El Salvador is a great place for tourism, but because of violence, it’s not possible,”
In order to escape, many Salvadorians would pay smugglers of people, nicknamed “coyotes,” particularly in oxen, to help them make the dangerous trek into the U.S. for the prospect of economic betterment, he said. Others, he said, would attempt to secure visitor visas to the U.S. and stay.
“Central Americans and South Americans are encouraged to migrate to the U.S. because they want a better life, financially or otherwise,” he said.
To address the issue, Mr. Barclay said he wants Congress to secure the borders, whether through building physical barriers in some areas or hiring additional personnel. The U.S., he said, cannot accommodate the number of migrants attempting to enter the country, and he is worried about the number of women and children embarking on the dangerous trek in recent years.
The former state senator said he wants Central and South Americans to apply for residency from their own countries, adding that many struggle to find job opportunities without following the proper procedures.
“Congress must act, and the borders must be secured. I gotta tell you, it’s a mess,” he said. “I’m for Latin Americans coming here. I want to make sure it’s done in an orderly process.”
Mr. Barclay served in the state Senate from 1965 to 1984. President George W. Bush appointed Mr. Barclay to serve as ambassador to El Salvador in 2003, a position he served until 2006.
“I was very impressed with his comments about GDP and how it comes together,” said Disabled Persons Action Organization founder Joseph L. Rich, a Rotary Club member who attended the meeting, adding that he was troubled at the separation of families at the border. “There has to be a more humane way to handle that.”