CITY (AP) — Following her meeting with Guatemalan President
Alejandro Giammattei on Monday, Vice President Kamala Harris
expressed optimism about improved cooperation with Guatemala in addressing the surge in migration to the United States
, but she also issued a direct warning to migrants
considering the journey: "Do not come. Do not come."
Her remarks, made during a press conference following a private meeting with Giammattei, highlighted the challenge that remains even as Harris engages in substantive talks with Guatemalan and Mexican presidents during a three-day visit to the region this week, her first as vice president.
“I want to emphasize that the goal of our work
is to help Guatemalans find hope at home,” Harris said, adding, “At the same time, I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making the dangerous trek to the US-Mexico border
: Do not come, do not come.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
(D-NY) slammed the United States' stance.
“This is disappointing to see,” she wrote on Twitter
. “First, seeking asylum
at any US border is a completely legal method of entry. Second, the US has spent decades contributing to regime change and destabilization in Latin America. We can’t help set someone’s house
on fire and then blame them for fleeing.”
This is disheartening to see. First, seeking asylum at any US border is a completely legal method of entry. Second, the US has spent decades contributing to regime change and destabilization in Latin America. We can't help set someone's house on fire and then blame them for fleeing. https://t.co/vADyh5H0bw
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) June 7, 2021
In conjunction with Harris' visit, the Biden administration
announced that the Justice Department
would establish an anti-corruption task force as well as a task force to combat human trafficking and drug smuggling in the region. Harris also promised a new program focused on providing education
and economic opportunities for girls in the region, among other new initiatives.
Despite the talk of new ways to collaborate, reducing corruption and improving living conditions in the region have been long-standing challenges that previous administrations have been unable to address in their efforts to stem the tide of migration to the United States.
Part of the problem is that, despite the best efforts of US officials, corruption underpins many of the region's governments; indeed, Giammattei has faced criticism for his handling of the issue.
Last month, two lawyers who have been outspoken critics of Giammattei's administration were arrested on trumped-up charges in an attempt to silence them.
And the selection of judges
for Guatemala's Constitutional Court, the country's highest court, was marred by influence peddling and corruption allegations. Giammattei chose his chief of staff to fill one of the five
vacancies. When Gloria Porras, a respected anti-corruption force, was elected to a second term, the congress
controlled by Giammattei's party refused to seat her.
Giammattei appeared hesitant to address these concerns on Monday.
When asked about criticism of his record on corruption by The Associated Press
, 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 as the biggest corruption issue in his country.
Nonetheless, Harris expressed confidence in their ability to collaborate, telling reporters that the two had a "very frank and very candid" conversation about "the importance of anti-corruption and the importance of an independent judiciary."
Harris stated that the departments of Justice, Treasury, and State would collaborate 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 to address human smuggling. We are doing the work of requiring certain progress be made if we are going to attract US investment, private investment, to this region,” Harris explained.