Vice President Kamala Harris has announced that she plans to visit Mexico and Guatemala soon as part of her plan to use diplomacy to slow migration to the US-Mexican border.
President Joe Biden, who has moved away from predecessor Donald Trump’s hardline immigration approach, gave Harris the job of leading US efforts with Mexico and Central America’s Northern Triangle countries – Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – to deter migrants from crossing into the United States.
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Harris spoke to reporters on Wednesday while participating in a virtual roundtable discussion with experts, who offered recommendations on the region, focusing on the core causes of migration in the Northern Triangle.
“Our focus is to deal with the root causes, and I am looking forward to travelling, hopefully as my first trip, to the Northern Triangle, stopping in Mexico and then going to Guatemala,” Harris said.
Participants in the meeting included Nancy McEldowney, a national security adviser to Harris, Andrew Selee, the president of the Migration Policy Institute think-tank and Lisa Haugaard, the co-director of the Latin America Working Group nonprofit advocacy group.
Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei said on Wednesday his government was likely to reach agreements over migration with Harris during her planned visit to the country but he added there were no deals yet on the table.
“(The U.S. government) will analyse our proposals and the agreements will come from there,” he said in a statement, noting a meeting date had yet to be determined.
Influx of unaccompanied children
One aspect of the growing challenge facing the Biden administration is the increase in the arrival of unaccompanied children, who are admitted to US territory and who the government has to house while waiting to reunite them with family members.
The US in March witnessed the highest number of unaccompanied children attempting to cross the border since such record-keeping began in 2010.
Overall, more than 172,000 migrants were caught at the US-Mexico border in March, according to an administration official. Of those, roughly 168,000 were picked up by border patrol agents between ports of entry – the highest monthly count since March 2001.
The US must figure out how to bring about economic development in the Northern Triangle countries to curb immigration, Harris said. Most of the region’s people do not want to flee their homes but many do so because there are no opportunities to meet their needs, she added.
Republican legislators in Washington, DC have questioned why Harris was planning to visit Mexico and Guatemala when she has yet to visit the southern US border.
Our work in the Northern Triangle is critically important—for the United States and the region. Today, I gathered experts to discuss the root causes of migration, establishing long-term partnerships, and building a more hopeful future for people in their own communities. pic.twitter.com/UxqY9CYrlY
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) April 14, 2021
“It has been 3 weeks since President Biden appointed VP Harris to oversee the border,” House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said on Twitter. “Since then, the crisis has only continued to spiral out of control.”
At a congressional hearing on Wednesday, Ricardo Zuniga, a US special envoy to Central America said the recent increase in migrant arrivals was part of a “recurring pattern” driven by crime and poor economic conditions in the Northern Triangle.
Zuniga said the Biden administration was working to help social welfare agencies in the region to identify unaccompanied children travelling with US-bound caravans and other groups to stop them from taking the “dangerous journey” north.
In a recent article, the Atlantic Council’s Latin America Center said that climate change, the effect of the pandemic as well as corruption, insecurity and poverty in Central America will continue to drive mass migration to the US.
It pointed out that the lack of “sustained and inclusive economic opportunities” in the Northern Triangle region were among the main drivers of unauthorised migration.