Pence tells Central American leaders to end migrant 'exodus'

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen walk together after finishing their meeting with Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno and his wife Rocio, in Quito, Ecuador June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Tapia

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told the leaders of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador on Thursday to end an “exodus” of illegal immigrants to the United States, urging them to dissuade people from even considering entering the country unlawfully.

The White House has been battling with critics of its “zero tolerance” stance on illegal immigration since the practice of separating children from parents sparked uproar this month and led U.S. President Donald Trump to sign an order ending it.

The bulk of illegal immigrants caught trying to enter the United States in recent years have been from Central America.

After meeting Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, his Honduran counterpart Juan Orlando Hernandez and El Salvador’s President Salvador Sanchez Ceren in Guatemala City, Pence reinforced the theme he has pressed this week in Latin America.

“This exodus must end. It’s a threat to our security,” Pence told a news conference with the other leaders.

“I have a message for the people of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador,” he added. “If you want to come to the United States, come legally, or don’t come at all.”

Pence urged Central American leaders to “tell your people that coming to the U.S. illegally will only result in a hard journey, and a harder life”.

Guatemala’s Morales appealed to the United States to consider an immigration reform “in which many of the legal processes and procedures can be done openly.”

Editing by Dave Graham and Eric Meijer