January 30, 2015 / 2:00 AM / in 5 years

Obama budget to include $1 billion for Central America

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget on Monday will include $1 billion in new aid for Central America as part of a broad effort to address the unaccompanied child migration crisis, the White House said on Thursday.

Guatemala's President Otto Perez Molina gives his annual state of the union address in Guatemala City January 14, 2015. REUTERS/Josue Decavele (GUATEMALA - Tags: POLITICS)

The move, disclosed earlier to Reuters by Democratic congressional aides, follows last year’s arrival in the United States last year of tens of thousands of illegal migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador - including more than 60,000 children traveling without their parents.

The surge of arrivals caused widespread alarm in the country, and a political problem for Obama as he pushed Congress for a sweeping reform of U.S. immigration laws.

Central American leaders had asked the United States for billions of dollars in aid to improve conditions in their countries and help stem the flow of would-be immigrants.

Writing in the New York Times on Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden said inadequate education, institutional corruption, rampant crime and a lack of investment were hampering the economies of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

He said that if opportunity was not available to the 6 million young Central Americans entering the labor force in the next decade, “the entire Western Hemisphere will feel the consequences.”

“Confronting these challenges requires nothing less than systemic change, which we in the United States have a direct interest in helping to bring about,” Biden wrote.

“Toward that end, on Monday, President Obama will request from Congress $1 billion to help Central America’s leaders make the difficult reforms and investments required to address the region’s interlocking security, governance and economic challenges,” said Biden, who will lead the effort.

He said the three countries had taken action to combat corruption and had devised a joint plan for economic and political reforms.

Washington is prepared to work with international financial institutions and the private sector to help the three countries train their young people, make it easier to start a business, and ensure local enterprises benefit from free-trade agreements with the United States, the vice president said.

“The cost of investing now in a secure and prosperous Central America is modest compared with the costs of letting violence and poverty fester,” Biden wrote.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington and Richard Cowan in Philadelphia; Additional reporting by Peter Cooney in Washington; Editing by Sandra Maler and Lisa Shumaker

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