Harris Focuses on Mexico on Trip to Combat Migration

MEXICO CITY (AP) – Vice President Kamala Harris wraps up her first overseas trip on Tuesday with a visit to Mexico and a meeting with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a key but complicated ally in the Biden administration’s efforts to curb the surge in migration at the American border.

While Lopez Obrador pledged in a previous virtual meeting with Harris that the United States can “count on us” to help solve the problem of irregular migration, the Mexican President has in the past blamed President Joe Biden for increased border migration. And he was friends with his predecessor, President Donald Trump, despite Trump’s harsh policies on migrants.

Earlier last month, he also accused the United States of violating Mexican sovereignty for donating money to non-governmental organizations that criticized his government.

But Harris, in his role of addressing the root causes of increased migration from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, as well as Mexico, has sought to strengthen diplomatic ties. with the Mexican president. She has had several phone calls and a virtual bilateral meeting with him, and Tuesday will provide the latest indication of whether his efforts will pay off for either nation.

“We have a partnership, a long-standing partnership. Other than Canada, we are each other’s closest neighbors, ”Harris told reporters Monday night. “This is the basis of the conversation I will have with him – it is with this spirit, that we must be partners.”

The meeting follows Harris’s visit to Guatemala on Monday, where she met with President Alejandro Giammattei. To coincide with their meeting, the Biden administration announced a number of new commitments to tackle trafficking, smuggling and corruption, as well as investments in the country’s economic development. But on Tuesday, his meeting with Lopez Obrador should not deliver as many concrete commitments.

The two will witness the signing of a memorandum of understanding that will establish greater cooperation between the two nations on development programs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Harris associates said they would discuss vaccine sharing, the economic and security relationship between the two nations, and tackling the root causes of migration from other countries in the region. Harris speaks frequently of the need to improve economic conditions for residents of the area so that they do not feel pressured to travel to the US border.

The memorandum of understanding, according to special envoy Ricardo Zuniga, who traveled with Harris on the trip, marks a new level of cooperation and is important because the two countries have “some of the same problems” when it comes to irregular migration.

“It is very important to show that the United States and Mexico are working together and trying to improve the conditions on the ground among our neighbors, because of the importance that other Central American countries have for both of us,” he told reporters traveling with Harris.

Harris will spend the remainder of the day meeting with women entrepreneurs and labor leaders across the country.

The meeting comes just days after the country’s midterm elections, in which Lopez Obrador’s party appeared poised to maintain its majority in Mexico’s lower house of congress, but failed to reach a majority of two-thirds, some voters having reinforced the struggling opposition, according to the first Election results.

Harris is not expected to address the election results when he meets with the president, but the bloody campaign – nearly three dozen candidates or pre-candidates were killed as the drug cartels sought to protect their interests – did will not fail to hover over their conversations. The government’s inability to provide security in parts of the country is of concern to the United States in an immigration context, both for those displaced by violence and the impact it has on a severely weakened economy trying to emerge from the pandemic.

Yet while assistants say corruption was at the center of her meeting with Giammattei, it is unclear whether she will raise the issue with Lopez Obrador.

But increased border migration has become one of the main challenges Biden faces in the first months of his first term, with Republicans seizing on an issue they see as politically beneficial because polls suggest Americans are less supportive of Biden’s approach to immigration than they are of his policies on the economy and the COVID-19 pandemic.

They tried to make Harris the face of this immigration policy, accusing her and Biden of ignoring the issue as the two have yet to visit the southern border. Harris told reporters in Guatemala on Monday that she was focusing on tackling the root causes of migration in a way that yields “tangible” results “as opposed to big gestures.”

Whatever the end result of its meetings on Tuesday, Mexico will remain a key partner in border enforcement efforts.

Illegal border crossings have increased steadily since April 2020, after Trump introduced pandemic-related powers to deny migrants the ability to seek asylum, but accelerated further under Biden, who quickly abandoned many policies border lines – including the “Stay in Mexico” program to keep asylum seekers in Mexico waiting for court dates in the US immigration court.

Shortly after taking office, Biden also exempted unaccompanied children from Title 42, named after an article in an obscure 1944 public health law that allows authorities to deny entry to prevent the spread of disease. Mexico has agreed to take back its own citizens under Title 42 authorities, as well as people from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

US border officials met nearly 19,000 unaccompanied children in March, the highest on record. Overall, he had more than 170,000 encounters at the border in April, the highest level in more than 20 years, although the numbers are not directly comparable, as being arrested under authorities linked to the pandemic does not entail any legal consequences, resulting in many repeated passages.

Mexicans accounted for 36% of encounters with people who crossed illegally in April, the largest nationality according to the latest monthly data available from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Hondurans were second with 22% and Guatemalans third with 17%.

In March, Lopez Obrador also blamed Biden for increased migration at the US border, accusing at a March press conference that the Biden administration had created “expectations” that “there would be better treatment. migrants “.

“And that made migrants from Central America, and also from our country, want to cross the border thinking it is easier to do so,” he said.

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