Kamala Harris, Guatemala, Mexico Delivers Clear Border Message


MEXICO CITY – Before flying to Guatemala and Mexico on her first trip abroad, Vice President Kamala Harris wondered how she would approach her role as the face of the president’s plan Biden to strengthen the region and discourage migration to the United States.

After weeks of criticism from Republicans and some moderate Democrats who said the administration did not have a clear migration strategy, Ms Harris came to Central America with a straightforward response: the goal of l The administration would assert control of its borders, even if that meant far, for now, those fleeing the persecution and poverty that the vice president has promised to help in the long run.

Ms Harris was equally outspoken about the need to address the root causes that drive migrants to make the long and dangerous journey north from Central America, despite the hundreds of millions the United States has spent on improving conditions. prospects in the region. In Guatemala, she announced that the United States would help an anti-corruption panel that was denounced by President Alejandro Giammattei – even as the Guatemalan leader watched.

But it was his comments on migration – telling migrants in Guatemala, “don’t come” – that sparked a new round of criticism. Immigration advocates have accused the vice president of undermining the immigration law and Mr Biden’s pledge to re-establish a system for processing asylum claims on the southwest border.

A day later in Mexico City, Harris said there was “no doubt” that her work in Central America would have a positive effect on the region.

“The root cause problem will not be solved in two days,” Ms. Harris said. “It is not a new problem for the United States to feel the root causes on our shores.”

As crossings of unaccompanied minors and adolescents have skyrocketed this year, the Biden administration has relied on an emergency rule instituted by President Donald J. Trump that allows border officials to quickly turn back migrants without giving them the opportunity to seek asylum. Put in place after the coronavirus epidemic, the decree justifies the expulsions as a health measure intended to stop the spread of the virus.

Under US immigration law, migrants have the right to seek protection once they have set foot on US soil.

The continued use of the rule, Title 42, has drawn criticism from immigration lawyers, former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials, and the administration’s own medical consultants.

As a senator, Ms. Harris had previously questioned the legality of border policy. She signed a letter with other Democrats who accused the Trump administration of “misinterpreting its limited powers” by using the rule to deny asylum seekers.

“Why is this administration telling asylum seekers to stay at home when we have a moral and legal duty to give people in danger the opportunity to seek refuge,” asked Lee Gelernt, attorney for American Civil Liberties Union, which is suing the administration for its practice of turning back migrants. “I hope that domestic politics is not a driving force because asylum has to function outside of politics.”

While the United States has used Title 42 to turn back most migrants, the Biden administration has at times struggled to quickly return migrant families to Mexican authorities due to a change in Mexican law and the limited accommodation capacity south of the border. The United States is in talks with Mexico to find a cure, although Ms Harris said she did not discuss the issue with Mr López Obrador on Tuesday.

The challenge facing Ms. Harris is undoubtedly a complex one.

Ms. Harris’s team tried to distance her from the U.S.-Mexico border issue, a recognition of the political baggage it brings to any Democrat aspiring to a higher office. While she has shown a willingness to talk about the causes of migration, Ms Harris stumbled when she mentioned the border.

When asked by NBC’s Lester Holt on Monday why she wasn’t visiting the border herself, Ms. Harris replied, “And I haven’t been to Europe. And I mean, I don’t understand the point you’re making. I do not underestimate the importance of the border.

Ms Harris pledged to visit the border on Tuesday and dismissed accusations that her absence reflected a lack of focus.

“I think it is shortsighted for all of us who are in the problem-solving business to suggest that we are only going to respond to the reaction rather than tackling the cause,” Ms. Harris.

Past attempts to strengthen Central America, including efforts championed by then-vice president Biden, have failed to prevent migrants from fleeing to the United States, where they may face overcrowded facilities and a wait of several years for their case to be resolved.

The administration has made progress in moving migrant children and families out of border detention and into temporary shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Yet border officials predict that at least 170,000 migrants crossed the border illegally in May, which would be the most crossings for that month in at least two decades.

Ms Harris said the Biden administration will continue to focus on the long-term factors that drive families to the United States.

In a meeting with Mr. López Obrador on Tuesday, Ms. Harris’s team announced that the Biden administration would provide loans for affordable housing, infrastructure development and efforts to grow cocoa and coffee.

The United States will also invest $ 130 million over three years to support labor protection for Mexican workers and provide forensic training to Mexican authorities to help locate tens of thousands of missing people.

The two leaders signed an accord at the National Palace that reiterates their commitment to deter migration by addressing the factors that motivate it: poverty, persecution and corruption in Central America.

“We are very happy to have him here and we will be addressing this subject but always addressing the root causes,” López Obrador said when asked by a reporter if he would work with the United States on US security. borders.

The Biden administration has also called on Mexico to increase the number of security personnel at the Mexico-Guatemala border – and has pledged to send hundreds of thousands of vaccines to Mexico and Central America.

The day before in Guatemala, Harris pledged to use US aid to create jobs, set up initiatives for women developing businesses and address security concerns. She also touted a resource center where migrants can learn about refugee and asylum programs that do not require travel to the border.

But long-term investment-oriented strategies have been used by the US government in the past, only to keep funds from reaching those who need them. The administration hopes that the migrants this time around will trust the repeated promises of government officials and break the practice of traveling to the United States to provide for their loved ones.

“I don’t think it will stop anytime soon because there is no work here. If there was work here, it would stop, ”said Pascual Santay López, president of the local council of Chex Abajo, an indigenous mountainside village in Guatemala. “We’re not going to be lazy or do bad things. We’re just going to work.

Mr López said his fellow community members would likely continue to make the trip north, despite statements from the United States. For now, they will probably be turned away.

Nonetheless, Ms Harris assured her job during the trip would bring changes.

“Do I declare this trip a success?” Mrs. Harris said. “Yes.”

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