Administration

Harris dubs first foreign trip a success amid criticism over border

Vice President Harris on Tuesday declared her two-day trip to Guatemala and Mexico a success after extensive discussions with leaders there, saying they made progress on addressing the root causes of migration by announcing a handful of new initiatives.

“We have been successful at making progress,” Harris told reporters at a press conference in Mexico City following meetings with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and entrepreneurs. “The issues that are long standing by virtue of the nature of them are not going to be solved overnight, but it is important we make progress.”

“Do I declare this trip a success? Yes, I do,” she said.

Harris took center stage during the two-day trip, fielding criticism from the left and right for her statements on regional migration.

But Harris succeeded in returning relations between the United States and its closest southern neighbors back to a predictable normality, after four years of disruption under former President Trump.

The trip, dubbed a reset of relations with Mexico and Guatemala, played out in a more traditional manner than negotiations with Trump envoys in the past.

Harris touted plans announced a day prior in Guatemala to form new task forces to fight corruption, human trafficking and smuggling; launch a young women’s empowerment initiative; and invest $48 million over three years to boost economic opportunities in Guatemala.

In Mexico, Harris and López Obrador signed a memorandum of understanding establishing greater cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico on addressing the lack of economic opportunities in Central America. They announced plans to form a high-level economic dialogue and Cabinet-level security dialogue and to deepen cooperation to combat human trafficking and solve disappearance cases. Harris also touted a new $130 million investment to support workers in Mexico.

Still, Harris took flak from domestic audiences on the Biden administration’s handling of immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border.

Republicans targeted Harris with the same attacks they’ve used against President Biden on the matter, including not spending enough time at the border.

Responding to a question from a reporter on Tuesday, Harris said that she would visit the border in the future but did not offer a time frame. She also repeatedly stressed that addressing the root causes of migration meant traveling to countries like Guatemala and Mexico and understanding why people are leaving.

“We need to prioritize what’s happening at the border and we have to prioritize why people are going to the border,” Harris said. “I think it’s shortsighted for any of us who are in the business of problem solving to suggest we’re only going to respond to the reaction as opposed to addressing the cause.”

She also got into hot water with progressives and some immigration advocates when she pleaded with Guatemalans on Monday, “do not come, do not come.”

The White House and allies on Capitol Hill defended Harris, saying she made the plea in the context of a broken U.S. asylum system and the dangers of the trip north through Mexico.

Throughout the trip, Harris repeated a mantra of improving conditions in Central America, in collaboration with regional governments, nongovernmental organizations and civil society.

“I want to be very clear that the problem at the border, in large part if not entirely, stems from the problems in these countries. I cannot say it enough. Most people don’t want to leave home and when they do, it is usually for one of two reasons: either they are fleeing harm or to stay home means that they cannot satisfy the basic needs to sustain and take care of their families,” Harris said.

Tags biden administration Donald Trump Guatemala Joe Biden Mexico US immigration policy

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