"We have a lot to discuss," the vice president said this week, previewing her first international trip to address one of the thorniest issues facing the Biden administration

By Sean Neumann
June 02, 2021 04:35 PM
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kamala harris
Vice President Kamala Harris
| Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty

Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Central America next week, in her first international trip, to have "an honest and real conversation" about the root causes of migration with the presidents of Guatemala and Mexico, she told reporters Wednesday.

"We have a lot to discuss," Harris, 56, said about her plans to speak with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei.

Harris said she planned to urge Giammettei, 65, to "support the folks who need help in terms of hunger, the economic development piece, the extreme weather" — three factors experts often associate with mass migration.

"It's also about the need to have very frank and honest discussions about the need to address corruption, to address crime, and violence, and in particular against some of the most vulnerable populations in that country," said Harris.

She was recently tapped by President Joe Biden as the administration's leader on efforts to address migration (a high-profile job with as many potential pitfalls as rewards).

CNN reports that Harris will fly to Guatemala on Sunday and then fly to Mexico that night and later meet with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Tuesday.

kamala harris
Vice President Kamala Harris (right) speaks with the press
| Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty

There was an influx of migrants from Central American countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador earlier this year, with migrants and human rights advocates citing economic and social inequalities exasperated in many cases by climate change.

Another reported factor was that some migrants believed it would be easier to get into the U.S. after Biden's election, given the empathy he displayed compared to Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" approach and his derogatory comments about Latin American migrants.

In light of the increase at the southern border, Biden, 78, faced widespread criticism both from Republicans — who said he was ill-equipped and too permissive — and from progressive Democrats who lambasted crowded border patrol facilities, especially those housing children, during the first months of his presidency.

The criticism underlined how persistently thorny immigration has been for past presidents — or, according to administration officials, how there are few solutions that satisfy everyone.

Biden told migrant parents last month: "Do not come here. Period," citing the limited capacity at border facilities, especially among children.

Both government officials and their critics have described the situation at the southern border as a "crisis." Border officials said they encountered a staggering 51,412 unaccompanied migrant children — including a record-breaking 18,960 in March, according to the latest data.

The massive increase caused crowded conditions at detention-like border facilities meant to house children for no more than 72 hours before they're transferred to more hospitable facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Ultimately, unaccompanied migrant children find temporary homes with family sponsors in the U.S. while they wade through the often arduous and arcane immigration process.

The White House was then criticized for a lack of transparency after not allowing journalists to visit the border facilities earlier this year for weeks on end.

But Biden officials celebrated a success after the president called on FEMA to help open emergency facilities, leading to Homeland Security dramatically reducing the number of children being detained by border officials while reducing the time children spend there before getting transferred to better-equipped HHS facilities.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas tweeted last month that his department "has made significant progress" at the U.S. facilities.

Previewing her trip next week, Harris said Wednesday that she planned to press Central American leaders on economic and social issues while also listening to how the U.S. can help.

"It's going to be an honest and real conversation," Harris said. "I'm there to listen as much as I'm there to share perspective."