WASHINGTON – Kamala Harris left Sunday on her first trip as U.S. vice president, visiting Guatemala and Mexico on a mission to try to figure out how to keep the people there and in Honduras and El Salvador from migrating north to the United States.
As thousands of migrants try to cross the southwestern U.S. border with Mexico, Harris is looking to reach agreements for more cooperation on border security and economic development to keep people in their home countries even as corruption in the region complicates already difficult issues.
Harris, who has little foreign policy experience, was tasked by President Joe Biden to resolve the migration dilemma for the U.S., searching for a way to stem the flow of migrants in a humane way and not allow unfettered access into the U.S.
She is meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on Monday and Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Tuesday. In addition, Harris is meeting community leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs in Guatemala, and while in Mexico, she is participating in a conversation with female entrepreneurs and holding a roundtable with labor workers.
Ahead of her visits to the two countries, she has emphasized the need for increased employment opportunities and better living conditions. She announced $310 million in U.S. aid to support refugees and deal with food shortages. She also recently won commitments from U.S. companies and organizations to invest in Central American countries to promote economic opportunity and job training.
The U.S. also last week said it would send a combined 1.5 million doses of coronavirus vaccines to Guatemala and Mexico.
Harris’s diplomatic outreach has touched off political mockery at home because she has yet to visit the U.S.-Mexico border even though she said she would at some point.
At a news conference, some Republicans displayed a milk carton showing Harris with the headline: “MISSING AT THE BORDER.”
Over recent years, the U.S. has sent billions of dollars in assistance to Central American countries in hopes of curbing the motivation for residents there to migrate north to the U.S. But so far, the aid has not stemmed the tide of migration as people look to escape crime and poverty in search of a better life in the U.S.
Former President Donald Trump adopted get-tough policies at the border to turn back migrants. Biden also is turning back migrants but has allowed unaccompanied children to enter the U.S., unlike Trump. The policy shift combined with a predictable rise in spring migration and the easing of pandemic restrictions at the border, contributed to the arrival of thousands of migrants in recent months, increasing pressure on the Biden administration to resolve the issue.
“We have to give people a sense of hope, a sense of hope that help is on the way, a sense of hope that if they stay, things will get better,” Harris said after Biden named her to lead diplomatic efforts in Latin America.
The Harris trip got off to a tentative start when her plane leaving Washington was forced to return after 30 minutes by what was described as a “technical issue.” She boarded another plane and left about an hour and a half later.