Good morning, everyone – to the officials of the Mayor's Office of Bogotá and to all the new Bogota residents who join us today.
It is a true honor for me to be here with you and even more so to be able to celebrate the launch of this policy that systematically supports the inclusion and reception of the migrant and returnee community.
Bogotá has extended its arms, it has shared its schools, its streets, its parks, with more than 600,000 migrants – considering them not as strangers, but as Mayor López said, as new Bogota residents.
This policy is not only generous, it is also smart. By providing migrants access to services and economic opportunities, Bogotá is investing in the progress of the city.
According to the International Monetary Fund, the successful integration of migrants can contribute more than 4.5% to Colombian GDP in the coming years.
The policy being launched today also reflects the positive results we have achieved by working together – the government, international organizations, civil society and the private sector – with a clear mission.
Together we have built an environment conducive to integration: designing inclusive public policies; facilitating access to services and job opportunities; facilitating social cohesion; and supporting each migrant so that they can develop their potential and contribute to their community.
There is no better example of this than the people who join us today – brave young people, like Victoria Valentina Toro, who inspire us to continue working for educational inclusion, and entrepreneurs like Yesenia Rodríguez, Carla Arellano, María José Marmo, and Alejandro Méndez, whose determination has forged their own businesses that contribute to the economic growth of the city.
At the heart of this vision are the Intégrate centers.
Their creation was based on listening to the experiences shared by migrants and returnees who recounted their hardships when trying to access the health system, education and economic opportunities in a new and unknown city. Today, these centers have become welcoming places where everyone, regardless of their origin, can find the necessary support to rebuild their lives in Bogotá.
More than 100,000 people, including 40,000 in the capital, have walked through its doors in just one year. These centers, in addition to extending a helping hand, include migrants in their work teams, providing a powerful example of migration and integration in action.
To all the people who work tirelessly at the Intégrate centers and are celebrating their first year of operation, I heartily congratulate you, Mayor López and her team. You are leaving a great legacy: forging a city where migration is recognized as a net benefit, and where the growth of each individual contributes to overall prosperity.
Bogotá is leading the way not only for Colombia and Latin America but for the world in how to face migratory crises – that will become increasingly frequent – with humanity and pragmatism.
Colombia was bold in the face of the Venezuelan crisis, granting migrants a ten-year temporary protection permit. Other countries such as Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil have also responded with inclusive policies, joining the only sustainable response to this massive displacement: a coordinated and hemispheric response.
In the United States we also see the value of safe, orderly and humane migration.
President Biden's administration has responded by creating many more legal pathways for migrants from different parts of the world, from Ukraine to Haiti. Last week, President Biden made the decision to extend temporary protection status for Venezuelans, which will allow almost 500,000 Venezuelans already in the country to contribute their talents to the communities in which they live.
We know that these policies are costly, they are costly politically and they are costly in terms of resources. In Colombia, the almost 2.5 million people who have registered under temporary protection status still face challenges in accessing services or finding work. And there are almost 1 million migrants who have not yet obtained regular status.
For all of them, we will continue working together and supporting efforts in favor of regularization and integration. As USAID and as the American government, we reiterate our commitment to forge alliances with the Government of Bogotá and with the many other cities in Colombia that are giving migrants the opportunity to study, work and rebuild their lives.
To conclude, I wanted to share something that never ceases to impress me about the Colombian people. Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the Cloisters of San Agustín, where the photojournalist Jesús Abad has documented the armed conflict in Colombia through photographs over the years. I don't know if it is despite, or because of, the pain and adversity that these people have suffered, but it is inspiring to see that the response to this humanitarian crisis has been based on compassion and humanity.
I congratulate you for celebrating this new policy today and for the work you do every day. Thank you so much.