Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday met virtually with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador ahead of her long-anticipated trip to Latin America as President Biden’s migration czar.
Harris made only brief remarks in Washington, saying, “Mexico is our closest neighbor,” before reporters were escorted away.
“Together, we must fight violence, we must fight corruption and impunity. It is in our countries’ mutual interest to provide immediate relief to the Northern Triangle and to address the root causes of migration,” Harris said.
“You and I have discussed it before and understanding a belief — most people don’t want to leave home and when they do, it is often because they are fleeing some harm or they are forced to leave because there are no opportunity.”
Harris confirmed this week that she will finally visit Mexico and Guatemala on June 7-8.
Biden appointed Harris in March as his point person on stemming the migrant crisis along the Mexico border amid a surge in families and unaccompanied minors from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. But she faced sustained Republican criticism over her lack of relevant travel as illegal crossings hit a 20-year high.
The White House took pains to emphasize that Harris would only address the “root causes” of migration and not border enforcement as children were crowded into cramped, jail-like facilities.
Harris’ schedule of public events has grown noticeably more full of migration-related content after critics suggested she was backing away from the issue.
Harris said Tuesday at a web conference of Western Hemisphere leaders that there’s an “alarming” influx of migrants along the US-Mexico border, but that the problem cannot be solved without cleaning up corruption in Central America.
“No matter how much effort we put in on curbing violence, providing disaster relief, on tackling food insecurity — on any of it — we will not make significant progress if corruption in the region persists,” Harris said.
Harris noted that the Biden administration recently boosted US aid to Central America by “an additional $310 million” to stem the flow of migrants. Former President Donald Trump used foreign aid as leverage over the countries and froze some funding in 2019, arguing it was “probably just stolen” by corrupt leaders there.
In public remarks, Harris has attributed migration to a wide range of “push” factors, including hurricane damage, global warming, poverty, racial discrimination and gang violence.
Harris recently held events with Central American and US nonprofits and said she asked Japan’s prime minister and Finland’s president to help stem the flow of migrants.
Republicans attribute the migrant surge to Biden border policy changes and say Biden-backed legislation that would allow citizenship for most illegal immigrants creates new “pull” factors.
In February, Biden terminated Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy that required Central American asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while US courts reviewed their claims.