In Guatemala, Harris Tells Undocumented to Stay Away From U.S. Border

GUATEMALA CITY — During her first overseas journey as vice chairman, Kamala Harris stated the United States would bolster investigations into corruption and human trafficking in Guatemala, whereas additionally delivering a transparent, blunt message to undocumented migrants hoping to attain the United States: “Do not come.”

Ms. Harris issued the warning throughout a visit that was an early but pivotal check for a vice chairman at present tasked with the advanced problem of breaking a cycle of migration from Central America by investing in a area suffering from corruption, violence and poverty.

While President Biden campaigned on unwinding a number of the Trump administration’s border restrictions, permitting migrants to apply for asylum on the U.S. border, Ms. Harris amplified the White House’s present stance that almost all of those that crossed the border can be turned away and would as an alternative want to discover authorized pathways or safety nearer to their dwelling international locations.

She didn’t draw back from brusque language when it got here to discussing corruption with the Guatemalan president, Alejandro Giammattei, who has been criticized for having a political agenda and for persecuting officers who combat corruption.

Ms. Harris arriving in Guatemala City on Sunday.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

“We will look to root out corruption wherever it exists,” Ms. Harris stated, including that the administration would help an anti-corruption unit within the lawyer basic’s workplace. “That has been one of our highest priorities in terms of the focus we have put here after the president asked me to take on this issue of focusing on this region.”

Ms. Harris, whose personal aspirations to the presidency are clear, was tapped by Mr. Biden to put money into Central America to discourage the susceptible from making the harmful journey north. Mr. Biden has confronted criticism from Republicans and a few average Democrats within the early months of his time period for the hovering variety of crossings of unaccompanied minors on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The vice chairman’s prime aides have sought to differentiate her position from the political land mine of managing the border, as an alternative saying her focus is on working with overseas governments to bolster the Central American financial system and create extra alternatives for individuals who now see fleeing to the United States as their most suitable choice.

Ms. Harris introduced new steps within the effort on Monday. The Biden administration will deploy homeland safety officers to Guatemala’s northern and southern borders to prepare native officers — a tactic related to one utilized by earlier administrations to deter migration. The State and Justice Departments may also set up a job power to examine corruption circumstances which have hyperlinks to Guatemala and the United States, whereas additionally coaching Guatemalan prosecutors.

“We will look to root out corruption wherever it exists,” Ms. Harris stated.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

“We did have a very frank conversation about the importance of an independent judiciary,” Ms. Harris stated. “We had a conversation about the importance of a strong civil society.”

The Biden administration additionally outlined an funding of $48 million in entrepreneurship applications, inexpensive housing and agricultural companies in Guatemala, a part of a four-year, $four billion plan to put money into the area. Ms. Harris final month touted commitments from a dozen personal corporations, together with Mastercard and Microsoft, to develop the financial system in Central America.

But hanging over these applications are questions on how to make sure that U.S. support advantages those that want it most, and never simply contractors enlisted by the United States or Guatemalan officers.

Guatemala in 2019 expelled a United Nations-backed anti-corruption panel, referred to as Cicig, which labored alongside Guatemalan prosecutors to carry corruption circumstances however was additionally accused by conservatives within the nation of getting a political agenda.

Ms. Harris at a gathering about migration on the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Ricardo Zúñiga, Mr. Biden’s particular envoy to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, described such impartial anti-corruption panels as “very successful efforts.” But Ms. Harris’s group stopped in need of saying they believed Guatemala wanted an impartial entity to examine corruption.

“The point is that there’s not one specific model,” Mr. Zúñiga stated. “The point is to provide support to the people within the government, or within the institutions, judicial institutions, mainly, who have the will and the capacity to drive those cases forward.”

Ms. Harris made some extent in her opening remarks to give attention to encouraging would-be migrants to keep nearer to dwelling whereas making use of for permission to enter the United States and ready to obtain replies. Days earlier, her prime aides introduced plans to set up a brand new heart in Guatemala the place individuals can study acquiring asylum protections or refugee standing whereas nonetheless in Central America, quite than touring to the U.S. border.

“Most people don’t want to leave the place they grew up. Their grandmother. The place they prayed. The place where their language is spoken, their culture is familiar,” Ms. Harris stated. “And when they do leave it usually has to do with two reasons: Either they are fleeing some harm or they simply cannot satisfy their basic needs.”

In Chex Abajo, a mountainside village 155 miles away from Guatemala City, the place Ms. Harris spoke, Nicolás Ajanel Juárez, stated his neighborhood is unable to safe such requirements, regardless of guarantees made by varied American presidents.

The village of Indigenous corn farmers embodies the daunting job going through the vice chairman. Mr. Juárez, a member of the native management, stated most of the 600 residents watched as their properties had been blown away in twin hurricanes. Profits from corn crops are now not dependable as local weather change has prolonged the dry season.

Many households within the village depend on remittances from kin within the United States. Those whose lifestyle has been raised by U.S. wages have bigger properties manufactured from cement and iron, marked with stars and American flags. The important street within the village known as “Ohio” due to the variety of migrants who’ve discovered work landscaping in that state.

After assembly with Mr. Giammattei for roughly two hours, Ms. Harris introduced that the United States would type a job power to crack down on smugglers trafficking migrants in Central America and Mexico.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

“It would be best if help can come directly instead of through government because that’s where it gets lost,” Mr. Juárez stated towards music enjoying for a close-by ceremony memorializing a member of the neighborhood who crossed into the United States and died two years in the past. “Politicians don’t know because they don’t come here, to see with their own eyes the needs of the people.”

After assembly with Mr. Giammattei, Ms. Harris met with a bunch of girls who’ve organized growth applications for Indigenous communities, or coaching for these wanting to acquire enterprise abilities.

But earlier than that, she acknowledged the symbolic weight of being the primary feminine vice chairman, and of constructing Guatemala her first overseas vacation spot in that workplace. While a bunch of protesters holding indicators opposing Ms. Harris’s go to stood close to one entrance of the navy airport, a line of households, lots of them girls, stood alongside one other fence hoping to catch a glimpse of Air Force II because it landed in Guatemala.

“To the extent I can have any impact based on my gender and the fact I am the first, I welcome that,” Ms. Harris stated, including, “You may be the first to do it, but make sure you’re not the last.”

Pedro Pablo Solares contributed reporting from Guatemala City.

Ms. Harris at a information convention with Mr. Giammattei on the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times