El Salvador vice-president on immigration and crime reforms
El Salvadorian Vice-President Félix Ulloa spoke with Fox News Digital about the significant changes underway in his country which he claims helped significantly reduce crime in the country once known as the world’s "murder capital."
FIRST ON FOX – El Salvador has reported a drop in crime and a decrease in migration out of the country after years of bearing the title “the murder capital” of the world, the country’s vice president told Fox News Digital.
“We are very clear exactly what is our policy regarding enforcing immigration,” El Salvadorian Vice President Félix Ulloa told Fox News Digital. “President [Nayib] Bukele has been clear from the very beginning. This is not a problem of the United States only: This is our problem.”
“We don’t want to hide the problem,” Ulloa added. “We won’t try to put the trash under the carpet. We will face the problem. This is a problem that has been created for and by the exclusion – social, economic exclusion – and boosted by the violence in the community. So we have to deal with that.”
Ulloa called immigration “a permanent issue” and urged the U.S. to develop a comprehensive, bipartisan plan to “manage this issue.” To that end, he said his country reached out to the U.S., sending a letter to Vice President Kamala Harris to request a dialogue over a potential $4 billion investment in the region to create jobs and help increase quality of life so that it might deter people from leaving the countries.
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However, Harris did not respond to that letter, Ulloa said, underscoring the need “to solve the problems in the countries” where the immigrants originate. At the time of publication, Fox News Digital could not verify the vice president’s response to the letter as Harris’ office did not respond to several Fox News Digital requests for comment.
Harris has been the point person for the administration’s efforts to address root causes of migration from a few Central American countries, including El Salvador, per a White House fact sheet shortly after President Biden took office.
El Salvador’s Vice President Felix Ulloa arrives for the Paris Peace Forum closing diner at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Nov. 11, 2022. (Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images)
In February, the administration announced a roughly $1 billion investment in communities in those countries through companies including Nestle, Target and Columbia Sportswear to support farmers, create textile jobs and invest in various industries, The New York Times reported.
Ulloa argued that El Salvador is “not only obligated,” but also has “the right to maintain this harmonious relations with the administration … doesn’t matter which is the side of Democrats or Republicans. It is the U.S. government in place.” He believed that El Salvador’s success could serve as a blueprint for other countries in the region, but that more work is needed, and that help would require cooperation with the U.S. – but the two nations have experienced some tension.
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks while meeting with governors during the National Governors Association Winter Meeting in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023. Yesterday, President Biden denied his administration is considering deporting major numbers of non-Mexican immigrants, saying he did not think there was a need to do that even if pandemic-era border restrictions are lifted. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Biden administration officials turned down a meeting request with El Salvadorian President Nayib Bukele in February during an unannounced Washington trip following an alleged snub from Bukele in 2021 against U.S. diplomat Ricardo Zuniga. Ulloa dismissed any continued rumblings of disagreement, saying that his country has been “keeping in all diplomatic relations.”
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“It’s a misunderstanding with some of the envoys that came in the past,” Ulloa said. “But now the relationship has been improved and we have an excellent relations with the ambassador.”
A Customs and Border Protection officer, left, keeps watch as immigrants line up to be transported from a makeshift camp between border walls between the U.S. and Mexico on May 13, 2023 in San Diego. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
“We want to maintain the open dialog, the demonstration with this administration, with the new administration that could take over the obviously being intellectual, because our relationship with the United States Is a long story, probably a long life.”
Ulloa suggested that Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas look to overhaul and improve the process by which immigrants can apply for citizenship and more easily manage the process. The Department of Homeland Security referred a Fox News Digital request for comment to the State Department, who did not respond by time of publication.
El Salvador presidential candidate Nayib Bukele of the Great National Alliance, right, and then-vice presidential candidate Felix Ulloa celebrate their victory in the presidential election in San Salvador on Feb. 3, 2019. (Marvin Recinos/AFP via Getty Images)
“I said it in the U.N. in New York, I said it in other summits, in different summits of the countries of the region, that El Salvador is willing to share our experience because the good practices should be shared, wherever that’s needed,” Ulloa said. “We are open to receive from any country or any international body, any request to share our technical assistance in this regard.”
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“If any country is interested, they could come, they could ask for an appointment with the Minister of Justice or with the director of the penal system, or directly with our ministers,” he added.
Gang members wait to be taken to their cell after 2000 gang members were transferred to the Terrorism Confinement Center, according to El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele, in Tecoluca, El Salvador, in this handout distributed to Reuters on March 15, 2023. (Secretaria de Prensa de la Presidencia/Handout via Reuters)
Ulloa referred to comments by U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador William H. Duncan that suggested the country has seen a 40% decrease in people leaving the country over the past year – partially after the establishment of the country’s mega-prison “Terrorism Confinement Center.”
The prison, which can hold 40,000 people, has already exceeded 10% capacity just a few months after opening, with tens of thousands of gang members still waiting for trial. Ulloa said the prison was necessary after his country received criticism for being overrun by criminal to the point that “the traditional penitentiary system was overcrowded.”
A general view shows the Terrorism Confinement Center in Tecoluca, El Salvador in a handout distributed to Reuters on Feb. 1, 2023. (Secretaria de Prensa de la Presidencia/Handout via Reuters)
“In the past, there were a lot of escapes, because of the way that the penitentiary system and all the facilities were built,” Ulloa explained, noting that a number of the buildings were from colonial times.
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The new mega-prison, which Ulloa said the country built in “record time,” involves “new technologies.” He noted that one of the significant issues that the country faced was the proximity of jails to cities, so it was necessary to build the mega-prison in an isolated area.
Prison agents observe gang members as they get off a bus at their arrival after 2000 gang members were transferred to the Terrorism Confinement Center, according to El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele, in Tecoluca, El Salvador, in this handout distributed to Reuters on Feb. 24, 2023. (Secretaria de Prensa de la Presidencia/Handout via REUTERS)
Ulloa said the prison would contain the facilities for inmates to train in workshops and potentially even farm their own food and produce “something to be sold out of the prison.”
“In that way, they could be self-sustaining,” Ulloa claimed. “It has been a model for other countries, who have come to visit and check to see how [it] was and how [it] is working now.”
Prison agents observe gang members as they are processed at their arrival after 2000 gang members were transferred to the Terrorism Confinement Center, according to El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele, in Tecoluca, El Salvador, in this handout distributed to Reuters on Feb. 24, 2023. (Secretaria de Prensa de la Presidencia/Handout via REUTERS)
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Ulloa argues that El Salvador’s success could serve as a blueprint for other countries in the region, and he revealed that some countries have reached out to El Salvador regarding the mega-prison, whom he could not name, but did say his country has “offered to do some technical training and technical assistance” to other countries “that require this type of thing.”
Peter Aitken is a Fox News Digital reporter with a focus on national and global news.