Harris warned Central Americans not to migrate to the US and said the administration will intensify efforts to combat corruption in the region, after meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei. “Do not come. Do not come.”
Vice President Kamala Harris offered an optimistic outlook for improved cooperation with Guatemala during her first ever visit abroad since she assumed office as the Vice President of the United States. Harris warned Central Americans not to migrate to the US and said the administration will intensify efforts to combat corruption in the region, after meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei. “Do not come. Do not come,” Harris said at a news conference in Guatemala City. “If you come to our border, you will be turned back.”
Speaking on her first overseas trip since taking office, she said the journey north was dangerous and would mainly benefit people smugglers. Her comments, during a press conference after she met privately with Giammattei, underscored the challenge that remains even as Harris engages in substantive talks with the Guatemalan and Mexican presidents during a three-day visit to the region this week, her first foreign trip as vice president.“I want to emphasize that the goal of our work is to help Guatemalans find hope at home,” Harris said. “At the same time, I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come, do not come.”
In conjunction with Harris’ trip, the Biden administration announced that the Justice Department would create an anti-corruption task force and an additional task force to combat human trafficking and drug smuggling in the region. Harris also promised a new program focused on creating education and economic opportunities for girls there, among other new initiatives. And she told Giammattei that her goal in the region was to restore “hope” to residents so they no longer felt the need to flee their homeland for better opportunities in the U.S.
Harris’s trip is part of the Biden administration’s effort to address the so-called root causes of migration from Central America, after more than 200,000 attempts by migrants from the region to enter the US since the start of the year. President Joe Biden directed Harris to lead the effort to stem the surge in migration.Harris and Giammattei had a “very frank and very candid” conversation that included “the importance of anti-corruption and the importance of an independent judiciary,” she said. In April, the country’s legislature — controlled by Giammattei’s party — refused to seat an anti-corruption judge, Gloria Porras, a move criticized by US officials.
More than 178,000 migrants arrived at the border this April, the highest one-month total in more than two decades, according to US border officials. Of those migrants, more than 40% originated from the Central American region known as the Northern Triangle: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. A central issue contributing to the border crisis is the corruption of government officials in the region, who have been accused of aiding in drug and human trafficking. Many migrants leaving the Northern Triangle say they are fleeing violence, discrimination and poverty.
The steady “brain drain” of locals has exacerbated problems caused by decades of political instability. These countries have also stressed that they are feeling the most adverse effects of global warming – most notably hurricanes – despite hardly contributing to climate change.The new announcements follow $310 million in humanitarian aid for Central America that Harris unveiled in April. US and regional leaders must “give the people a sense of hope that help is on the way and to then follow through, understanding that hope does not exist by itself,” Harris said earlier as her meeting with Giammattei began. “It must be coupled with relationships and trust. It must be coupled with tangible outcomes, in terms of what we do as leaders to convince people that there is a reason to be hopeful about their future and the future of their children.”
Republicans have criticized Harris’s effort, repeatedly noting that she has yet to travel to the US border. She said in response that the reason she’s in Guatemala is “because this is one of our highest priorities,” adding that she wanted to talk about “what we can do in a way that is significant, is tangible. I will continue to be focused on that kind of work as opposed to grand gestures,” she said.The Biden administration’s migration strategy is not yet fully formed, and Harris’s advisers have framed her first overseas trip as a fact-finding mission to help develop the policy. The final strategy is not expected to be released until after Harris returns to the US
US officials have said the Biden administration’s plan will center on improving economic conditions in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador so their citizens have less reason to leave. That strategy has been tried before with mixed results; those countries remain among the poorest in the Western Hemisphere and racked by violence.Harris regards corruption as a main driver of migration since it affects all sectors from the economy to criminal justice. She has pledged to work with non-governmental organizations and companies to direct assistance. Later Monday, she plans to meet with civil society leaders and entrepreneurs before flying to Mexico.
”These are efforts that have not been tried in the past that we believe will be quite productive,” Harris said. The benefits of greater US financial aid may be used to soften the blow of tough messages Harris and other officials are expected to send about cracking down on corruption and upholding democratic principles. The US has already condemned the government of El Salvador for a recent purge of the judicial branch and views Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez warily since federal prosecutors implicated him in a drug trafficking ring involving his brother.
Harris has been tasked by President Joe Biden with controlling a surge in migration at the southern border. Harris has described her task as finding solutions to tackle the root causes of the border crisis, including corruption and the lack of economic opportunities. Her staff say this first visit is primarily an information-gathering trip.