Harris Promises Border Visit, Urges Focus on Migration Roots
(Bloomberg) -- Vice President Kamala Harris said she’ll visit the U.S. southern border but urged American lawmakers to focus on the causes of mass migration from Central America, deflecting Republican criticism after meeting with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday.
“It would be very easy to just say we’ll travel to one place and therefore it’s solved. Well, I don’t think anybody thinks that that would be the solution,” Harris told reporters traveling with her in Mexico on Tuesday.
“I’ve been to the border before. I will go again. But when I’m in Guatemala dealing with root causes, I think we should have a conversation about what’s going on in Guatemala,” she said.
Harris is on the second full day of a trip to the region as part of her assignment from President Joe Biden to lead a U.S. government effort to curb a historic increase in migration from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Harris earlier Tuesday defended her approach, saying in an NBC News interview that there is “not going to be a quick fix.”
During her trip, she’s repeatedly been asked about Republican criticism that she has yet to visit the border with Mexico as vice president. In an interview with NBC News broadcast Monday evening, she replied tersely to the question.
“And I haven’t been to Europe,” she said. “And I mean, I don’t understand the point that you’re making. I’m not discounting the importance of the border.”
On Tuesday, she gave a fuller explanation, describing her diplomatic efforts as vital to identify the causes of migration and build partnerships with the leaders of countries migrants are fleeing.
“You can’t say you care about the border without caring about the root causes, caring about the acute causes, which include the fact you’re looking at populations particularly from Central America who are plagued by hunger and the devastation caused by the hurricanes and of course the effect of the pandemic,” she said, referring to a pair of powerful hurricanes that struck Central America late last year. They did particular damage to the agriculture industry, a major employer.
“So, let’s approach this in a way that acknowledges there are many factors and as with any intractable issue, we cannot be simplistic and assume that there is only one element or one way of approaching the overall problem,” she said.
In a news conference later Tuesday to conclude her trip, Harris committed to a border trip but again insisted the U.S. must look abroad to curb migration.
“Let’s talk about what’s going on in the places that are causing the issue at the border,” she said, calling it “shortsighted” to focus on the border alone. “You have to go to the core of what is causing it.”
In Mexico City, Harris and the Mexican leader, known as AMLO, observed as officials from their respective governments signed an agreement to cooperate on development programs aimed at improving economic conditions in Central America.
Underscoring the political challenge she faces, Harris also came under fire from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, a prominent Democrat, and human-rights groups that expressed disappointment at her warning to migrants not to make the journey to the U.S.
The vice president on Monday visited Guatemala, where she met with President Alejandro Giammattei and announced several new initiatives to crack down on human trafficking and corruption as well as addressing poverty and violence, which U.S. officials blame for the migration spike.
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During a news conference on Monday, she told would-be migrants: “Do not come,” warning that “if you come to our border, you will be turned back.”
Biden and other administration officials have previously made similar remarks. And the president has maintained a pandemic-era policy that’s led to the expulsion of most migrants crossing the border, including asylum-seekers.
The Mexican government limited press access to Harris’s meeting with Lopez Obrador, restricting coverage to five American journalists and allowing them to observe for about three minutes. AMLO’s party lost its supermajority in the lower house of Mexico’s legislature in midterm elections on Sunday.
The two leaders pledged to work together to make the region’s economies more equal and increase economic opportunities as part of a strategy to reduce migration, according to a statement from the Mexican government.
A statement from Harris’s office said the U.S. government had “developed a package of grants, loans and other assistance” that aims to create $250 million in new investment and sales in southern Mexico. The two governments will work together on a number of other issues, including to “help solve the more than 82,000 cases of missing persons and disappearances in Mexico, potentially bringing closure to tens of thousands of families and ending impunity for offenders.”
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