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Analysis: Harris’ Trip to Latin America Reveals Immigration Problems


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Vice President Kamala Harris finished her off trip to Guatemala and Mexico On Tuesday, echoing what she said for months: Most people who flee Central America for the United States do not want to leave their homes, and would not do so if they felt safe and economically secure.

It’s true. But like everything else in her mission to curb migration to the southern border by addressing root causes, it is difficult. And it is the complexities that make her task so difficult and, perhaps, unsolvable in the near future.

Harris, speaking on behalf of the administration, proposed increasing foreign aid and economic development programs to replace the remittances that have fueled the region’s economy for generations. However, many communities in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras have depended on family members for decades to send home wages received in the United States. According to the World Bank for 2019, such foreign remittances account for between 14% and 21% of the economies of these Northern Triangle countries.

A vice president must inevitably rely on leaders involved in corruption to help solve problems in their countries. Nonetheless, corruption is one of those problems that alienates residents by siphoning money and impeding the provision of basic services.

Harris said her portfolio does not include bureaucratic and humanitarian turmoil on the US-Mexico border, but that is where the problems are most obvious to Americans.

Leaving Mexico, Harris asked for patience and understanding. But internal divisions demonstrated on her short journey, she may not get it.

Republicans ruthlessly attack her for not visiting the border, prompting her to promise in Mexico City that she will leave soon. And the liberals were furious that she gave hard warnings to the Central Americans so that they do not go north, even though she accepted the conditions forcing many to flee.

“Kamala Harris doesn’t know how to wave a magic wand,” said Noah Gottschalk, head of global policy at Oxfam, the international organization for the fight against poverty and human rights.

Gottschalk largely supports the Biden administration’s approach to helping Central America, but still found himself “tweeting furiously” after Harris in Guatemala warned potential migrants not to come and said they would “turned back” at the border if they did. For Gottschalk, this is fundamental hypocrisy.

“It is completely unacceptable for an American official of any level – let alone a vice president – to travel to the region and see firsthand the reason why people make this impossible, so difficult decision to leave,” he said, “and then say heartlessly,“ We ​​will return you back. ”

His organization is suing the Biden administration for continuing the Trump administration’s policy of denying asylum seekers by border guards, citing the pandemic as a public health emergency. Under US law, migrants at the border have the right to seek asylum.

Harris’s comments did not mean a change in administration policy; President Biden said roughly the same thing. But for Harris, to say that in the region, since she was talking mainly about fighting poverty and violence, was different – quite harsh.

Harris, twice asked about the shift in focus as she left Guatemala for Mexico on Monday night, tried to bring the discussion back to her primary goal of mitigating the impact of the pandemic, natural disasters and other concerns.

But she didn’t back down. The administration has tried, without much success, to balance between empathy and toughness, given concerns about the large number of children and families arriving at the border with smugglers., and continued political pressure associated with an increase in the number of migrants.

Administration officials are aware of complex messaging problems. But for the most part, they just have to deal with the situation they face – much like President Trump and President Obama did before Biden and Harris.

Ricardo Zúñiga, the administration’s special envoy to the region, reporters in Guatemala were pressured over the country’s decision two years ago to dismantle an international anti-corruption body, a source of ongoing concern about President Alejandro Giammattei’s commitment to fighting bribery.

Suniga found it difficult to answer. He said the non-existent anti-corruption body was “very successful,” but made it clear that he did not expect Giammattey to resurrect him.

“It’s not that there is one particular model,” he said, trying to sound reassuring. With regard to the United States, he added, “It’s about supporting the people in the government,” or the judiciary.

This is the kind of government that Harris, a newcomer to diplomacy, learns on the job. She appears to have enjoyed meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, which lasted more than two hours on Tuesday, even as critics were alarmed by the populist leader’s attacks on journalists and other independent observers.

Harris was aware of Lopez Obrador’s anti-democratic tendencies. But administration officials say it needs to establish a constructive working relationship with him, given his country’s importance to the United States when it comes to border security and trade.

Harris avoided meeting with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who was involved in drug trafficking, and El Salvador President Naib Bukele, who was considered increasingly authoritarian.

Jason Marczak, director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin American Center, said the challenges Harris faces in Central America – economic inequality, poverty, and elite rule – remained intractable for most of a century.

“Her ability to solve this problem in a couple of months after she put the portfolio on the table is unrealistic,” he said. “This is an important but first step towards solving a problem that has been troubling these societies for a long time.”

Ariel Ruiz Soto of the Migration Policy Institute thanks Harris for tackling the problem, but says the administration is not doing enough to provide humanitarian protection for people at risk, nor is it creating sufficient legal means to immigrate to the United States from those countries.

“This is what the conversation really lacks. According to Ruiz Soto, in Central America, there is really no way for people to immigrate outside of the asylum system. “There must be another option.”

Times contributor Tracy Wilkinson contributed to this report.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Algulf.net and Algulf.net does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.


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