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Vice President Kamala Harris in Guatemala Monday warned potential migrants not to flock to the US border — saying they will be turned away if they do.
“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 the dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border — do not come, do not come,” she said.
Harris’ comments came at a joint press conference with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei in her first visit abroad since being appointed by President Biden to lead the administration’s efforts to stem the southern border crisis that has seen a massive spike in illegal immigration since he took office.
The Biden migration czar, who visited the border in 2018 to slam the Trump administration’s treatment of migrants, was pressed by reporters about why she has yet to visit the US-Mexico border. She maintained that it wasn’t necessary to visit the border now, saying that wouldn’t accomplish anything.
“On the issue of Republicans’ political attacks, or criticism or even concerns: The reason I am here in Guatemala as my first trip as vice president in the United States is because this is one of our highest priorities,” Harris said in response to a reporter from the Associated Press.
“And I came here to be here on the ground to speak with the leader of this nation around what we can do in a way that is significant, is tangible and has real results. And I will continue to be focused on that kind of work as opposed to grand gestures.”
Later, Harris was confronted by a CBS News reporter on whether it indicates “failure” if migrants continue to surge to the border.
“You just told people in this region, ‘Do not come. Do not come.’ Would it be fair to perceive the Biden administration’s work on stemming illegal immigration to be a failure if because they’re so desperate, they still keep coming?” the reporter asked.
Harris, who leaves Guatemala on Monday night for a stop in Mexico, did not directly answer that question and instead focused broadly on addressing corruption and boosting Central American economies.
Harris said she was pursuing “a relatively new approach, which is to bring together the private sector, understanding that the United States government cannot alone do the kind of work that we believe we have collectively the capacity to do. So we have good reason to believe that we can have an impact.”
Giammattei, who fended off questions about whether he’s corrupt at the same press conference, blamed the Biden administration for the migrant crisis in a Sunday interview, saying US officials sent mixed messages.
“We asked the United States government to send more of a clear message to prevent more people from leaving,” Giammattei told CBS News.
“The message changed too: ‘We’re going to reunite families, we’re going to reunite children,’” he said. “The very next day, the coyotes were here organizing groups of children to take them to the United States.”
Critics attribute the record surge of illegal immigration to Biden’s policies, including his decision to end former President Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy that required most asylum-seekers from Central America to remain in Mexico while US courts reviewed their claims of persecution.
Biden also ended construction of Trump’s US-Mexico border wall and urged Congress to pass legislation that would establish a path to citizenship for most illegal immigrants. Republicans said the legislation and Biden policy changes created new “pull” factors for illegal immigration — countering Harris’ emphasis on “root causes” in Central America.
The number of US-Mexico border detentions soared to a 21-year monthly high of more than 178,000 in April, the most recent month for which statistics are available. Many families and unaccompanied children are from the three-country “Northern Triangle” of Central America, which includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
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