Kamala Harris sends clear message to potential Guatemalan migrants: "Do not come"
Guatemala City, Guatemala – Kamala Harris issued a dire warning to potential Central American migrants on Monday during her visit to Guatemala – her first international trip as vice president.
"I want to emphasize that the goal of our work is to help Guatemalans find hope at home. At the same time I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come, do not come," Harris said during a press conference with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, striking an imposing tone.
The warning makes it clear that curbing the number of Central American migrants who reach the US Southern border remains one of the top priorities of the Biden administration.
Despite the commanding tone and controversial nature of her remarks, Harris' speech marked a departure from the Trump administration's attitude toward the region, The Hill reported. Rather than merely threatening economic sanctions should the number of migrants not decrease, she announced several US policy initiatives to target the "root causes" of migration.
Several of these policies include creating a joint task force to combat human trafficking and smuggling; sending around 500,000 coronavirus vaccine doses to Guatemala; and investing in affordable housing, agricultural businesses, and entrepreneurship programs.
The proposals are based on the administration's underlying philosophy that people would rather remain in their countries of origin if conditions there allow them to make a safe and decent living.
Harris herself is a daughter of two immigrant parents, as she boasted on the campaign trail.
Anti-corruption is a Biden administration priority
The US also proposes to create an anti-corruption task force to investigate transnational crime, led by the Justice, Treasury, and State departments, a pronouncement which has not been received with fully open arms.
Giammattei suggested that the perception that the Guatemalan government is corrupt comes from social media misinformation in the US.
"We have no interest or desire to hide anything. Quite the contrary, the more international certification there is that we are doing the right thing, we will continue to get rid of that very different narrative in the United States than we have here," the Guatemalan president said.
Harris is set to meet with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Tuesday. He has been more directly critical of US support for anti-corruption NGOs, but it remains unclear whether that subject will be addressed during the visit.
Before boarding the plane to Mexico City, a reporter asked Harris why she placed such blunt emphasis on telling Guatemalans not to migrate, NPR reported. She had received strong criticism from progressive activists and politicians, including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
"Listen, I’m really clear we have to deal with the root causes and that is my focus. Period," the vice president responded.
Cover photo: IMAGO / Agencia EFE