US Vice-President Kamala Harris, during her first foreign trip, on Monday pleaded with would-be migrants from Central American countries to stay home.
In her Guatemala visit, Harris has the tricky task of reintroducing the US as a friend to the region while finding ways to reduce migration, which has often been Central America’s only social safety valve amid ever-worsening humanitarian conditions, reports The Hill.
The vice-president was blunt in her message to Central Americans, repeating, “Do not come.”
To soften the blow, she framed the Biden administration’s closed-door policy in a message of hope for the region.
The Biden administration’s Central America strategy represents, like many other aspects of Joe Biden’s immigration policy, a stark shift from the Trump administration’s initiatives.
While former president Donald Trump’s policy was catalogued as cruel by its opponents, it was simple: Mexico and Central America could avoid monetary sanctions through tough enforcement of laws to stop migrants heading for the US border.
Biden’s approach offers humanitarian benefits instead of enforcement measures.
In a press conference alongside Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, Harris announced a handful of new initiatives, including a joint task force to combat human trafficking and smuggling, a young women’s empowerment programme and an anti-corruption task force.
She said that the US would also invest in agricultural businesses and affordable housing and help support entrepreneurs in Guatemala.
US officials have for months emphasised the closed-borders warning to would-be migrants, despite the low likelihood of its success at changing minds in Central America.
On Tuesday, Harris will meet with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a key US partner in enforcing regional migration policy, before she returns to the US.
But for all the talk about new ways to cooperate, reining in corruption and improving living conditions in the region have been long-running challenges that previous administrations have been unable to achieve in their efforts to stem the tide of migration to the US, says the AP.
Part of the challenge remains that, despite the best efforts of US officials, corruption underpins many of the region’s governments.
Even as Harris made the case for reforms, those very migrants she hoped to help were still streaming north for America.
On Monday, Henry Armando Rodriguez, 27, from El Paraiso in south-central Honduras, rested outside the migrant shelter in Tecun Uman at the Guatemala-Mexico border on his journey toward the US.
He didn’t know about Harris’ visit but described reasons for leaving that touched on the hopelessness the vice president wants to address.
“Life is very bad in Honduras right now,” he told the AP. “We have to flee from there to be able to look for new opportunities.”
He decided to make the journey as there is no agricultural work because of droughts at home.
He said that even when he was able to find work, he couldn’t make enough money to pay for a decent home.
And he was not impressed with the politicians who he says only claim they want to help when they need votes around election season.
“They promise you the sun and the moon, and then in the end they forget all of that,” he said.
“What interests them is only themselves, how they live, and the life of the poor is of little importance to them.”