Vice President Harris is in Central America this week to meet with the presidents of Guatemala and Mexico — her first international trip since taking office and being named illegal immigration czar — where she is set to announce new initiatives to tackle “corruption” and “economic opportunities” in the region.
Traveling by Air Force Two, the vice president arrived in Guatemala City Sunday evening ahead of her two days of planned meetings and diplomatic talks amid a record migrant surge from the region, which President Biden has tasked Harris with addressing the “root causes” of.
Amb. Nancy McEldowney, Harris’ national security adviser, told reporters on the plane ride to Guatemala City that the VP chose Central America for her first trip “as part of her overall effort to focus on diplomacy with…part of the countries in the Northern Triangle and Mexico.”
Harris will start Monday by meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, after which the two will hold a press conference with selected media — Harris’ first since being tasked with managing part of the crisis.
“During this meeting, the two will discuss cooperation on migration, security, rule of law, and expanding economic opportunities for Guatemalan people,” the White House said in an advisory Sunday evening.
Following the presser, Harris will meet with community leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs to discuss “how best to address the root causes of migration.”
In her final event before departing for Mexico, the VP will meet young female entrepreneurs and engineers “to learn about the challenges faced by rural business owners and discuss the factors that prevent people from building a future for their families in their home communities.”
Harris will depart for Mexico on Monday evening, holding talks Tuesday with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and taking part in another local summit.
Prior to the trip, she had spoken twice with Giammattei and twice with López Obrador.
The vice president will make announcements about new efforts of cooperation and new programs on the trip, though she is not expected to announce any new aid.
“In addition to the comprehensive approach to addressing the many causes, it’s also a comprehensive approach in terms of building out partnerships,” a senior administration official told reporters on Air Force Two. “One of the things the vice president has done is, she met with CEOs and issued a ‘call to action’ two weeks ago now.”
Harris, the official added, has a “broader vision” for addressing the crisis of mass migration that involves the United Nations.
“We want to focus on where we already have funding and support,” the official said when asked about reallocating aid.
What the VP will focus on, the official said, was corruption in the region.
“What is more clear now that was even clear in 2014 is that governance is absolutely key to success on anything else we’re trying to do on development. If you zero in on what is really making people leave, it’s that they don’t have a job, they don’t have an opportunity, they don’t have a future.”
Last Wednesday, Harris said the key to making progress in these meetings was “having very frank and honest conversations about the need to address corruption, to address crime, violence, and in particular against some of the most vulnerable populations.”
The Biden administration’s undoing of former President Donald Trump’s border policies has prompted a flood of Central American and Mexican illegal migrants at the US border, including thousands of unescorted children.
Central Americans looking for refuge from the Northern Triangle countries — Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — have taken these policy moves, as well as the overwhelmingly more welcoming tone from Democrats, as a sign that Biden is inviting them to cross the border.
Insisting that the border was not facing a crisis, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in early March that the problems the agency faced should be blamed on the previous administration.
The data, however, overwhelmingly shows that migrants were flooding the border because they believed Biden would welcome them with open arms.
As Mayorkas denied the existence of a crisis, López Obrador blamed the new president for it, arguing that the “expectations” he set left migrants with the perception that they would be let into the US.
As the crisis heated up, Biden tapped his vice president to address the diplomatic measures related to its “root causes.”