Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a virtual meeting with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at the…
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a virtual meeting with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, May 7, 2021.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said Friday that the United States and Mexico must collaborate to reduce immigration from Mexico by addressing violence and corruption in Central America.

The vice president made her appeal during virtual immigration talks with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Harris told Lopez Obrador it was in the best interests of both countries to address the root causes of migration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, which make up a  region in Central America known as the Northern Triangle.

“Together, we must fight violence. We must fight corruption and impunity,” Harris said at the start of the meeting. “It is in our countries’ mutual interest to provide immediate relief to the Northern Triangle and to address the root causes of migration.”

Lopez Obrador said his country agreed with “the migration policies you are developing, and we are going to help. You can count on us."

Harris spokesperson Symone Sanders said in a statement after the meeting that the two leaders agreed to “establish a strategic partnership” to address economic underdevelopment and other factors that cause migration from the Northern Triangle.

'Range of challenges'

“Through this joint initiative, the United States and Mexico will leverage their expertise and resources to tackle a range of challenges, including lack of employment, limited market access, and deforestation and regional instability caused by climate change,” the statement said.

U.S. President Joe Biden has tasked Harris with leading the White House effort to curb immigration at the U.S. southern border, through which more than 20,000 unaccompanied children have entered the U.S. since January.

"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 opportunities," Harris said.

Lopez Obrador told reporters at his regular news conference shortly before Friday’s meeting that he would also discuss with Harris a tree-planting jobs program in Central America that he said could help participants get work visas in the U.S. The president first mentioned the proposal at a Washington climate summit last month, to the surprise of some in attendance.

Following Friday’s meeting, Lopez Obrador said, “It is in our best interests based on our political, historical and friendship relations. Sometimes there have been differences among us. However, we have a common border that is over 3,000 kilometers long, and we need to understand one another.”

Guatemala trip

Harris said Wednesday that she would visit Mexico and Guatemala on June 7-8 to search for solutions to the immigration challenge, her first foreign trip as vice president.

Prior to Friday's meeting, Lopez Obrador told reporters that the U.S. government had violated Mexico’s sovereignty by authorizing funding to an anti-corruption organization that had criticized his government.

Lopez Obrador accused the anti-corruption group Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity, which investigates political corruption, of trying to undermine his government. He described funding for the group from the U.S. Agency for International Development as “promoting a form of coup.”

He said that his government had sent a diplomatic letter asking the U.S. to explain the funding but that the matter was not on the agenda for the virtual meeting with Harris. “It's not our intention to create a bad atmosphere," Lopez Obrador said ahead of the talks.