US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has urged Central American governments to do more to help contain immigration to the United States, while Vice President Kamala Harris is gearing for her first trip to Guatemala and Mexico, aiming to lower migration from Central America.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado, Blinken on Tuesday said the US wanted to hear from its partners in the region about their shared commitment to managing migratory pressures.
“Good governance is crucial for confronting the challenges and seizing the opportunities of this moment, and yet we meet at a moment when democracy and human rights are being undermined in many parts of the region,” Blinken told reporters.
Blinken cited the erosion of judicial independence, crackdowns on independent media and NGOs, as well as the suppression of anti-corruption efforts to illustrate his point, noting that the US had also suffered its own setbacks.
Regional cooperation to address the issue was now more important than ever, said Blinken, who travelled to Costa Rica, to hold talks with leaders from Central America and Mexico.
Many immigrants stopped at the US border, which include children travelling without adults, are from three violent and impoverished Central American countries – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – for which the US has pledged aid in return for commitments to improve local governance.
That drive has been clouded by concern about corruption, cronyism, signs of authoritarianism and efforts to block the appointment of judges with track records of tackling corruption.
On Wednesday, Blinken was meeting in private with his Mexican counterpart, Marcelo Ebrard, and planned to visit a non-governmental organisation that provides children and families with recreational and educational activities.
Harris will land in Guatemala on Sunday and be in the country until Monday evening, senior adviser Symone Sanders told reporters on a conference call. She will then fly to Mexico on June 8, where she will spend the day before returning to Washington, DC in the evening, Sanders said.
Harris will build on topics previously discussed with leaders in Guatemala and Mexico such as securing the border and leading trade missions to the region, her advisers said.
In March, Biden entrusted Harris with leading US efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador aimed at improving conditions and lowering migration from the region.
Harris has since taken steps including speaking with policy experts, members of Congress and various stakeholders in the Northern Triangle countries. She also announced an additional $310m in US aid to Central America.
The US will send more border security officials to Guatemala to provide training in that country.
The US is also working to open the first of several centres to provide resources to migrants in Guatemala, said Mazin Alfaqih, special adviser to the vice president for the Northern Triangle.
The centres will offer services to people seeking lawful pathways of migration to the US as well as those in need of protection, asylum referrals and refugee resettlement.
Harris will also discuss “COVID cooperation” with both countries during her trip, said Sanders, who did not share details on whether that would include the sharing of vaccines.