As a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel has seen relations between the U.S. and Mexico improve over the past decade. Now, with President Donald Trump proposing to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, Engel fears that progress could be in jeopardy.
“President Trump’s order to build a 2,000-mile-long wall against our southern border has triggered a diplomatic crisis only a week into his presidency,” said Engel, D-NY. “Any $20 billion project to build a wall has to make its way through Congress at some point. When it’s my turn to vote on whether to build this monstrosity, I just know I’m voting no.”
Engel visited FIU recently to discuss the future of U.S. policy toward Latin American and the Caribbean. FIU’s Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center sponsored the event as part of its Governance and Security Program.
The former chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, Engel has consistently called for stronger U.S. relations with Latin American and the Caribbean.
Engel said he disagrees with the president’s orders to ban individuals from seven predominately Muslim countries and to block all refugees from entering the United States.
“We’re welcoming in this country. That’s why I favor immigration,” said Engel. “So what kind of people come here as immigrants? People who come here are industrious. They are bettering our country. They want a better life for their families and a better life for themselves because they deserve that.”
Instead of restricting immigration, Engel said he believes the Trump administration should work toward policies to improve security in the region, reduce drug trafficking, increase economic cooperation and most importantly promote stronger engagement in Latin American countries going through political or economic crisis.
“With the crisis in Venezuela or the electoral challenges in Nicaragua or the citizen security in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the region, it’s more important than ever that the United States redouble our efforts to find solutions,” said Engel. “I plan to continue to push the State Department to expand our diplomatic presence as soon as possible.”
When asked about President Trump’s executive order directing the government to punish sanctuary cities – and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s order to comply with Trump’s plan – Engel said he will continue to fight for sanctuary cities.
Ultimately, Engel said he advises the Trump administration to be careful with its ties to Mexico and the rest of Latin America.
“I can’t overstate how important I believe our ties with Mexico are. They are a friend and an ally. We need to focus on our neighborhood in the Western Hemisphere,” he said. “It’s easy to talk about big-picture strategy in the Americas, but what’s going to make a difference is a stronger collaboration.”