The United States will give $310m in humanitarian relief to Central America, US Vice President Kamala Harris has told Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei during a virtual meeting her office said, as the region looks to address a wave of migration north.
Harris, who is leading President Joe Biden’s efforts to address the influx of migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador across Mexico to the US border, had a virtual meeting with Giammattei on Monday. She plans to visit Central America in June.
“In light of the dire situation and acute suffering faced by millions of people in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, Vice President Harris announced an additional $310 million in US government support for humanitarian relief and to address food insecurity,” a statement from her office said after the meeting.
It said the two governments will also coordinate law enforcement efforts to tackle criminal organisations whose activities help drive migration, as well as open migrant resource centres to establish safe, legal migration.
“The United States plans to increase relief to the region, strengthen our cooperation to manage migration in an effective, secure and humane manner,” Harris promised Giammattei.
According to the White House press office, the aid will include $125m to help “mitigate the impact of recurrent drought, food shortages, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic”.
The US Department of State will also provide $104m in aid for the “immediate safety and protection needs of refugees, asylum seekers” as well as internally displaced people in the region.
Specifically for Guatemala, the US will give $25m to farmers, while a further $30m will go to Guatemala and Honduras for daily meals and literacy programmes for schoolchildren.
Biden has asked Congress for $861m to address the causes that drive irregular immigration from Central America, within the framework of his $4bn plan for the region.
The proposal is included in the budget project for next year that has yet to be discussed and approved by legislators.
More than 172,000 undocumented immigrants, including nearly 19,000 unaccompanied minors, were detained in March at the southern border of the United States, a rise of 71 percent in a month and the highest level in 15 years.
Most of the migrants come from the three countries of the Central American Northern Triangle.
The area, vulnerable to natural disasters, was hit by two devastating hurricanes in November and is struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic and a prolonged drought.
“We want to work with you to address both the acute causes and the root causes (of migration) in a way that gives hope to the people of Guatemala that there will be an opportunity for them if they stay home,” Harris also told Giammattei during the virtual meeting.
Giammattei agreed on the need to “create hope” in Guatemala.
“The Guatemalan government wants to be a partner (of the United States) to address … not only poverty but also the many evils that affect us all,” he said.
In addition, the president said he looked forward to Harris’ visit in June.
Many migrants have said Biden’s reversal of the hardline immigration policies of his predecessor former President Donald Trump gave them new hope.
The changes include allowing unaccompanied children to stay and be united with relatives living inside the US.
The number of unaccompanied children detained after crossing the border illegally, or trying to sneak through official entry ports, doubled in March from February to 18,890, according to the US Customs and Border Protection.