U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris stressed the importance of fixing the "root causes" of migration in her final remarks during a trip to Mexico and Central America to address the surge of migrants at the southwestern U.S. border.
"I want to be very clear that the problem at the border in large part, if not entirely, stems from the problems in these countries," Harris told reporters Tuesday evening.
"I cannot say it enough: Most people don't want to leave home. And when they do, it is usually for one of two reasons: either they are fleeing harm or to stay home means they cannot satisfy the basic needs of their families."
Harris underscored conversations she had with Guatemalan officials in which agreements were struck for the U.S. to fund projects that root out corruption, strengthen the rights of laborers and farmers, empower young women and more.
Earlier Tuesday, Harris met with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico City to discuss bolstering economic conditions in Central America.
When asked by a reporter whether the U.S. made specific commitments to increase legal pathways to migration, including work permits, Harris said there were discussions but "no promises" were made.
Harris and Lopez Obrador watched as aides signed a "memorandum of understanding" to "establish a strategic partnership to cooperate on development programs in the Northern Triangle" countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
Tens of thousands of their citizens have left home to trek through Mexico to try to get into the United States in recent months, with more than 178,000 migrants reaching the U.S. border in April, nearly half from Central America.
Harris had a blunt message Monday for Latin American migrants as she visited Guatemala: “Do not come.” She said the U.S. was “not afraid” to enforce its immigration laws and stop people at the border.
However, U.S. President Joe Biden has allowed unaccompanied migrant children to stay in the United States, unlike former President Donald Trump, who expelled them.
López Obrador, responding to a shouted question from a reporter whether Mexico was willing to increase its immigration enforcement, said he and Harris “will be touching on that subject, but always addressing the fundamental root causes” of the surge in migrants.
Harris, according to her spokeswoman, told the Mexican leader in their private talks that the U.S. will make new efforts to increase economic investment in southern Mexico, including loans for affordable housing.
In addition, the U.S. has committed about $130 million over the next three years to support workers and labor reforms. Harris told Lopez Obrador the U.S. would provide more forensic and law enforcement training in Mexico to help resolve more than 82,000 cases of missing persons and disappearances, a key concern for the Mexican leader.
After meeting with Lopez Obrador, Harris is talking with female entrepreneurs and holding a roundtable with labor workers.
Ricardo Zúñiga, U.S. special envoy for the Northern Triangle, told reporters ahead of Tuesday’s meetings that the United States and Mexico “have not had this level of cooperation in Central America before.”
“The main thing is that it’s very important to show that the United States and Mexico are collaborating and trying to improve conditions on the ground among our neighbors because of the importance that the countries in Central America have for both of us,” Zúñiga said. “We’re both destination countries for migration from Central America, and we both have some of the same issues trying to ensure that we have legal paths for migration and temporary labor.”
Harris’ talks in Mexico were similar to those in Guatemala, where she emphasized “the power of hope” along with new efforts to fight corruption.
“I am here because the root causes are my highest priority in terms of addressing the issue, and we need to deal with it, both in terms of the poverty we are seeing, the hunger that we are seeing, the effects of the hurricanes and the extreme climate conditions, what we are seeing in terms of the pandemic,” Harris told reporters.
Harris’ trip is fraught with U.S. political implications, though, as Republicans blame Biden and Harris for the surge in migrants trying to cross the country’s southwestern border with Mexico.
At a news conference in Guatemala City, Harris deflected a question about when she would visit the border, even though she has said she would at some point.
At a recent news conference, some Republicans displayed a milk carton depicting Harris with the headline: “MISSING AT THE BORDER.”