“To all the nations of the region, let me say with great respect, that just as the United States respects your borders and your sovereignty, we insist that you respect ours,” Pence said during the appearance in Brasilia.
“Don’t risk your lives or the lives of your children by trying to come to the United States on the road run by drug smugglers and human traffickers,” he added. “If you can’t come legally, don’t come at all.”
The remarks by Pence represent the most direct public statement to date by a member of the Trump administration to Latin American leaders on the immigration crisis.
The exhortation comes amid an intense public debate over the Trump administration’s immigration policy, which has resulted in more than 2,000 migrant children being separated from their parents and spread across the United States.
Images and audio of children in metal cages at government-run facilities set off an international outcry and prompted President Trump to sign an executive order last week ending family separations.
In remarks ahead of Pence’s statement, Michel expressed concern over reports of the separations of Brazilian migrant children and their parents in the U.S., which he called an “extremely sensitive issue in the eyes of the Brazilian society.” He added that his government stands ready to help return the children to Brazil.
Even as he struck a tough tone on borders, Pence also said the U.S. remains proud of its legacy as “the most welcoming home for immigrants in human history.”
“But we are also proud to be a nation of laws and a nation with recognized and respected international borders,” he said, echoing language that Trump and others in his administration have used on the issue. “We also want the people of our hemisphere to have the chance to build a better life for themselves in the land of their birth, rather than leaving for ours.”
Pence is expected to travel to Ecuador on Wednesday and then to Guatemala, where he and Nielsen will meet with the Latin American leaders, the White House announced Tuesday. Pence previously had been scheduled to travel to Guatemala to meet with survivors of the eruption of the Volcan de Fuego, which killed at least 62 people this month.
Latin American countries such as Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador had come out strongly this month against the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on immigration. The bulk of the separated migrant children came from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, officials say.
In addition to U.S. immigration policy, Pence has also made the spiraling humanitarian crisis in Venezuela a focus of his trip. He announced Tuesday in his appearance with Michel that the U.S. will provide additional support of nearly $10 million to Venezuelan migrants as well as $1.2 million directly to Brazil to address the crisis. Further details on the announcement were not immediately available.
“The United States stands with the good people of Venezuela, and we will continue to work with Brazil and all our partners across the region and the world to hold Nicolás Maduro accountable,” Pence said. “Venezuela deserves better.”
On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, the debate over a comprehensive immigration overhaul rages on, with little certainty about a solution.
After a hard-line immigration bill fell short of passage in the House last week, Senate Republicans had begun work on vote on a narrower measure aimed at fixing a flaw in Trump’s executive order and allowing children to stay longer with their parents in detention. Democratic leaders voiced concerns about that plan Tuesday, however, leaving it unclear as to whether any legislative fix might be worked out before Congress leaves town for its Fourth of July recess.
Anna-Catherine Brigida, Joshua Partlow and Philip Rucker contributed to this report.