In addition to honoring the new leader of Panama, Kerry said "we're also here to meet on an issue which challenges all of our countries" -- the illegal immigration of children.
"Tens of thousands of young children are at enormous risk for their lives ... The lives of children cannot be put at risk this way, and we all have a responsibility as leaders to do our part in order to solve this problem," Kerry said during a press conference with officials from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
"The United States wants to work very, very closely with our Central American partners in order to try to address this issue."
While Kerry acknowledged that many seeking to immigrate illegally are in pursuit of a better life, he pointed out there are also rules and processes, as well as false information. "And so we need to work together, to communicate to our people, to try to apply the law, and most importantly, to work with each of these countries to address the fundamental underlying causes of this particular challenge."
An unidentified senior State Department official, speaking on background, said "we've been engaging with Central America a lot in the last couple of weeks [on the subject of] unaccompanied children coming to the United States in very large numbers this year. ... The unaccompanied children number is now over 52,000 for this fiscal year. After last year and the entire fiscal year, it was 24,000."
Kerry's visit comes as leaders are discussing the agenda for the 2015 Summit of the Americas, which will be held in Panama.
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