Kamala Harris to address ‘root causes’ of migration on trip to Mexico, Guatemala

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Vice President Kamala Harris said Wednesday she will visit Mexico and Guatemala soon to address with their presidents the core causes of surging migration to the U.S. from Central America.

“Our focus is to deal with the root causes,” Ms. Harris said at a White House virtual roundtable on immigration. “Otherwise we are just in a perpetual system of only dealing with the symptoms.”

President Biden tapped Ms. Harris three weeks ago to work on diplomatic solutions to the migrant crisis. She has held phone calls with the presidents of Mexico and Guatemala, and those countries agreed last week to beef up the military at their borders to slow migration in the region.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Wednesday he plans to visit his country’s southern border to discuss with governors and mayors there how to stop the smuggling of child migrants. The U.S. has asked Mexico and the countries of Central America’s Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — to help lower the number of child migrants arriving at its own border with Mexico.

The agreement has been was criticized by human rights defenders and migrant advocates, who said deploying more troops would make it more difficult for people seeking international protection.

But Mr. Lopez Obrador said at his daily news conference that the desire to protect those rights is motivating Mexico’s efforts to stop child migrants.

In Washington, Ms. Harris cautioned that her work isn’t likely to show noticeable results anytime soon.

“It will take some time to see the benefits of that work,” Ms. Harris said. “These are not issues that are going to be addressed overnight in terms of the root causes.”

The vice president, who has been criticized by some Republicans for not traveling to the border to see firsthand the impact of the crisis, defended her broader approach to the problem by saying that Mr. Biden has given Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas the job of securing the boundary with Mexico. She said her role is to focus on diplomacy, similar to Mr. Biden’s job when he was vice president.

“The president has asked Secretary Mayorkas to address what is going on at the border, and he has been working very hard and is showing some progress because of his hard work,” Ms. Harris told reporters. “I have been asked to lead the issue of addressing the root causes.”

Mrs. Harris’ absence from the crisis at the southern border landed her on a “Missing Children”-inspired milk carton, a prop of House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican.

“We’re going to continue to raise awareness to this crisis at America’s southern border,” Mr. Scalise said. “It was exclusively created by President Biden.”

Ms. Harris said the U.S. needs to provide Central America with economic development aid, to give “some hope that if they stay at home, hope is on the way.”

But she reiterated that her efforts probably won’t bear fruit in the short term.

“Let me be clear, people who’ve been working on this for decades will tell you, it will not be obvious overnight,” the vice president said. “The work we are going to have to do will require a commitment that is continuous, that we institutionalize with our partners and that’s the work that I’m prepared to do, which is to begin that process of meaningful work knowing that we are going to have to have a long-term strategy.”

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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