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US: Kamala Harris in Guatemala warns migrants 'do not come'

June 8, 2021

The US vice president has cautioned migrants on her first trip abroad since taking office. She is talking migration, corruption and investment with Guatemalan and Mexican leaders.

Kamala Harris and Alejandro Giammattei
US Vice President Kamala Harris talked about migration during a visit to GuatemalaImage: Jacquelyn Martin/picture alliance/AP

US Vice President Kamala Harris warned migrants "do not come" to the United States, during a visit to Guatemala on Monday.

"The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our borders ... If you come to our border, you will be turned back," she said.

The trip to the country and then to Mexico on Tuesday for bilateral talks marks her first foreign outing since she took office.

Her visit, which is focusing on tackling the root causes of illegal migration, is set to signal a step-change in immigration policy after the hardline approach taken by President Joe Biden's predecessor Donald Trump.

Fostering 'a sense of hope'

Meeting President Alejandro Giammattei in Guatemala City, Harris said reducing undocumented migration from Central to North America was a priority for US President Joe Biden's administration.

She noted that migrants leave "either because they are fleeing some harm or because they simply cannot satisfy their basic needs by staying at home."

Harris said she wanted to give people "a sense of hope that help is on the way." 

She called on the US and Guatemala to "work together" to find solutions to "long-standing problems."

Meanwhile, Giammattei said Guatemala wanted to cooperate "to create conditions in Guatemala so that they [young people] can find here the hope they do not have today."

US Vice President Kamala Harris (R) and US Ambassador to Guatemala William Popp (2nd R) participate in a women's intergenerational innovators and entrepreneurs event in Guatemala City
US Vice President Kamala Harris spoke at a women's intergenerational innovators and entrepreneurs event in Guatemala CityImage: Jim Watson/AFP

In a bid to tackle migration, Harris announced a joint task force on smuggling and human trafficking and a women's empowerment program. She also announced an anti-corruption task force to help Central American law enforcement prosecute cases.

Record levels of migration

Harris made the comments as illegal migration at the US border approaches the highest level in more than 20 years

US border authorities are also encountering high levels of unaccompanied children making the crossing — nearly 19,000 crossed in March, the highest number on record.

Harris heads to Mexico

Harris is closing out her first foreign trip Tuesday with a visit to Mexico and a meeting with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Mexico, which shares its northern border with the US, is another key ally in tackling migration to the US.

"We have a partnership, a longstanding partnership. Other than Canada, we are the closest neighbors to each other," Harris told reporters Monday night. "That is the basis of the conversation I will have with him, it is with that spirit, that we have to be partners."

But her meeting with Lopez Obrador is not expected to deliver many concrete commitments.

The two will witness the signing of a memorandum of understanding that will establish greater cooperation between the two nations on development programs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Also slated to be on the agenda is vaccine sharing, the economic and security relationships between the two nations, and tackling the root causes of migration from other countries in the region.

kmm/wmr (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)