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Harris in Guatemala discourages would-be migrants: “Do not come”

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Vice President Kamala Harris discouraged would-be migrants from making the trek to the United States during her trip to Guatemala on Monday. It’s her first trip abroad as vice president, and she’s tasked with leading U.S. diplomatic efforts in the region to stem the flow of migrants to the southern border. 

“I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border,” Harris said during a press conference with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei Monday. “Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border.”

Harris said of her meeting with Giammattei earlier in the day that the two discussed the root causes of migration, particularly the lack of economic opportunity for many in Guatemala. It’s in the U.S. interest to help create economic opportunity for Guatemalans, she said, even as she discouraged illegal immigration to the U.S. 

“There are legal methods by which migration can and should occur, but we, as one of our priorities, will discourage illegal migration,” Harris continued. “And I believe if you come to our border, you will be turned back. So let’s discourage our friends, our neighbors, our family members, from embarking on what is otherwise an extremely dangerous journey, where in large part the only people who benefit are coyotes.” 

CBS News’ Ed O’Keefe asked Harris if she believes the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador or other Central American countries are corrupt, and if the Biden administration is a failure if migrants keep coming to the U.S. Harris replied that she and Giammattei had a “very frank and very candid” conversation.

For his part, the Guatemalan president, through a translator, said his government has “no interest or desire to hide anything,” claiming he welcomes international accountability. 

“We can … get rid of the mindset that politicians have to be corrupt just because they’re politicians,” Giammattei said through a translator. “It’s not necessarily so. And proof of that is that we are working very hard to take cases that we detect in the executive branch to the court system for prosecution.” 

As CBS News has previously reported, while President Biden has said all migrant families should be rapidly expelled from U.S. soil under a Trump-era public health order, the policy is currently being enforced inconsistently across the southern border, and many migrant families are being allowed to stay. 

Harris met with Giammattei, the leader with whom she has talked most frequently about immigration policy, at the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura in Guatemala City. They addressed cooperation on migration, and rooting out corruption in government and cooperation in fighting COVID-19. The U.S. will be sending Guatemala 500,000 vaccine doses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rates the level of COVID-19 infection in Guatemala as “high,” and discourages any non-essential travel to the country right now.

Harris said the 500,000 vaccine doses won’t cure the problem in the country, but will “make a dent.” She also said she expects more funding to come in addition to the $26 million the U.S. contributed for pandemic-related assistance. 

During a photo op with Giammattei before their meeting, Harris said that making Guatemala her first foreign visit is a “reflection of the priority that the president and I have placed on this region.” She said the U.S. has a “responsibility” to work with friends at allies around the world, like Guatemala. 

Migration, particularly from Guatemala, she said, is at the top of the agenda. But while the U.S. and Guatemala share some areas of agreement on the causes, Giammattei told CBS News’ Ed O’Keefe in an interview over the weekend that “we are not on the same side of the coin. It is obvious.” He later explained  that “we are in agreement on the ‘what'” of the immigration crisis, “which is something. We are in not agreement on the ‘how.'”

Harris heads to Mexico City Monday evening. 

Fin Gomez contributed to this report.


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