Harris hails ‘new era’ with Mexico during Lopez Obrador meeting

US and Mexico sign agreement to deepen bilateral cooperation on development in Central America.

The United States sees Mexico as an important partner both on slowing the flow of migration and on working on development in Central America [Carlos Barria/Reuters]

US Vice President Kamala Harris has said the United States’ relationship with Mexico is entering “a new era”, as Harris met with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico City on Tuesday to discuss immigration from Central America, among other issues.

Harris and Lopez Obrador were on-hand for the signing of a memorandum of understanding on the work the countries’ development agencies plan to undertake in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

They then met for talks billed as focused on “root causes” of migration.

“I strongly believe that we are embarking on a new era that makes clear the interdependence and interconnection between nations,” Harris said at the start of the meeting.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said the discussion had been “very successful”. The economy, security cooperation and development in southern Mexico and Central America were addressed, Ebrard said in a tweet, without going into further detail.

Translation: Meeting of President Lopez Obrador and Vice President Kamala Harris has concluded. The economy and high-level dialogue, cooperation for security, development in southern Mexico and Central America were addressed. It was a very successful meeting!!

Lopez Obrador, who built a working relationship with Donald Trump despite the former US president’s economic threats and insults against Mexico over migration, said his government was very interested in maintaining good relations with its northern neighbour.

The administration of President Joe Biden has been struggling to respond to high numbers of migrant families and children arriving at the US-Mexico border, mainly from Central America, in recent months.

Al Jazeera’s John Holman said from Mexico City that migration from Mexico to the US is “obviously a long-standing phenomenon” and though it ebbs and flows, many people appear to be leaving.

Since Biden took office in January, the number of migrants taken into custody by US officials at the border has risen to the highest levels in 20 years.

“(US) Customs and Border Protection say that in the last fiscal year they’ve seen more than 300,000 Mexicans at the border,” Holman reported.

Holman said Al Jazeera was recently in the Mexican state of Michoacan, where residents said “there was no other option but to flee”.

Mexico’s government is going to have to show that it can provide security for people in those parts of the country,” Holman concluded.

The administration sees Mexico as an important partner both on slowing the flow of northern migration and improving development in Central America.

“[T]he United States joined Mexico in a new strategic partnership to share information and strategies and co-manage new programs to foster economic opportunity through agricultural development and youth empowerment,” the White House said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The two leaders (Harris and Lopez Obrador) also agreed to increase cooperation to further secure our borders and ensure orderly immigration,” it said.

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and US Vice President Kamala Harris attending a bilateral meeting at the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City [Carlos Barria/Reuters]

The US and Mexico have largely agreed that they need to tackle the underlying causes of poverty and violence to stem migration from Central America. Migrants and asylum seekers have said socioeconomic conditions, unemployment, gang violence and recent devastating storms continue to push them to leave their home countries, among other things.

Harris, tasked by Biden to help stem migration to the US, has promised an additional $310m in aid to Central American nations to try to address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and last year’s hurricanes.

For its part, Mexico has extended domestic cash-for-tree-planting and youth unemployment benefit programmes to El Salvador and Honduras on a limited scale and plans to offer them in Guatemala, as well, Ebrard said on Tuesday before the Harris meeting.

The White House also announced that it will spend $130m during the next three years to promote Mexican workers’ protections and the implementation of labour reforms in the country.

The meeting on Tuesday came after Harris met Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei a day earlier. After that meeting, Harris said the two leaders had “robust” talks on fighting corruption to deter migration from Central America.

During a joint news conference, Harris tried to deter potential migrants from travelling to the US, telling them “do not come” – a blunt statement that immigration advocates said went against the administration’s commitment to taking a more humane approach to migration than under Trump.

New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticised Harris’s statement, calling it “disappointing” and pointing out that seeking asylum is a legal means of entry into the US.

The White House sought to clarify Harris’s comments on Tuesday.

“What the vice president was simply conveying is that there’s more work to be done, that we don’t have these systems in place yet,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a news briefing.

“It’s still a dangerous journey … and we need more time to get the work done to ensure that asylum processing is where it should be.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies