GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris offered an optimistic outlook for improved cooperation with Guatemala on addressing the spike in migration to the U.S. after her meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on Monday. She also delivered a direct warning to migrants considering making the trek: “Do not come. Do not come.”
Her comments, during a press conference after she met privately with Giammattei, underscored the challenge that remains even as Harris engages in substantive talks with the Guatemalan and Mexican presidents during a three-day visit to the region this week, her first foreign trip as vice president.
“I want to emphasize that the goal of our work is to help Guatemalans find hope at home,” Harris said. “At the same time, I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come, do not come.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) criticized the U.S. stance.
“This is disappointing to see,” she wrote on Twitter. “First, seeking asylum at any US border is a 100% legal method of arrival. Second, the US spent decades contributing to regime change and destabilization in Latin America. We can’t help set someone’s house on fire and them blame them for fleeing.”
In conjunction with Harris’ trip, the Biden administration announced that the Justice Department would create an anti-corruption task force and an additional task force to combat human trafficking and drug smuggling in the region. Harris also promised a new program focused on creating education and economic opportunities for girls there, among other new initiatives. And she told Giammattei that her goal in the region was to restore “hope” to residents so they no longer felt the need to flee their homeland for better opportunities in the U.S.
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 United States.
Part of the challenge remains that, despite the best efforts of U.S. officials, corruption underpins many of the region’s governments. Indeed, Giammattei himself has faced criticism over his handling of the issue.
Last month, two lawyers who are outspoken critics of Giammattei’s administration were arrested on what they say were trumped-up charges aimed at silencing them.
And the selection of judges for Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, its highest, was mired in influence peddling and allegations of corruption. Giammattei picked his chief of staff to fill one of the five vacancies. When Gloria Porras, a respected force against corruption, was elected to a second term, the congress controlled by Giammattei’s party refused to seat her.
On Monday, Giammattei seemed less than eager to address those issues.
Asked by The Associated Press about criticism of his record on corruption, Giammattei initially ignored the question. When pressed by another journalist to answer for the complaints against him, Giammattei seemed to bristle at the allegation that he was at fault, insisting there were “zero” allegations of corruption against him and labeling drug traffickers the biggest corruption issue in his nation.
Still, Harris expressed optimism about their ability to work together, telling reporters that the two had a “very frank and very candid” conversation that included “the importance of anti-corruption and the importance of an independent judiciary.”
Harris said the Justice, Treasury and State departments would work together on anti-corruption investigations and train local law enforcement to conduct their own.
“We are creating this task force to address corruption. We are working on a task force that is about human smuggling. We are doing the work of requiring certain progress be made if we are going to attract U.S. investment, private investment, to this region,” Harris said.