Vice President Kamala Harris is in Guatemala Monday on her first foreign trip as President Biden’s second-in-command. She’s been tasked with leading U.S. diplomatic efforts in the region to stem the flow of migrants to the southern border.
She’s holding a press conference alongsideafter meeting with him behind closed doors. Harris said she and the Guatemalan president discussed the root causes of migration, particularly the lack of economic opportunity for many in Guatemala.
Harris said the U.S. recognizes it’s in the United States’ interest and reflective of its values to help create economic opportunity for Guatemalans, but also discouraged illegal immigration to the U.S.
“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 the press conference. “Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border.”
“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 said she and Giammattei had a “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 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,.
Harris met with, the leader with whom she has talked most frequently about immigration policy, at the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura in Guatemala City. They were expected to discuss cooperation on migration, the rule of law, security and economic opportunities for Guatemalans.
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.