During a joint press conference with Guatemala President Alejandro Giammattei, Vice President Kamala Harris had message for Central Americans considering illegally migrating to the United States: “Do not come.”
“We will discourage illegal migration,” she commented. “The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border.”
“There are legal methods by which migration can and should occur,” Harris added.
The Biden administration has taken a tepid rhetorical stance on border enforcement and has rolled back a number of Trump-era policies, prompting a massive influx of unauthorized migrants, including unaccompanied minors, to seek entry at the southern border. President Joe Biden recently announced the U.S. plans to dramatically expand the refugee admissions ceiling to 62,500 for this fiscal year. The administration also declared last month that it intends to sign an emergency determination to expedite prospective refugee processing.
Harris went on to say that “if you come to our border, you will be turned back.” But the Biden administration eliminated the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols, which required to asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while their claims were being adjudicated. Since the policy was rolled back, roughly 40 percent of those who arrive on the Southern border seeking asylum are admitted to the U.S while their claims are adjudicated, and many of them never appear at their scheduled court hearings.
A number of Border Patrol agents are reportedly deliberating retiring early due to frustration with the administration’s relaxed border policies, with some nicknaming Biden ‘Let ‘Em Go Joe’, according to interviews Reuters conducted with officers.
In April, U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered an average of under 6,000 people daily at the border, a Department of Homeland Security official told CNN.
A humanitarian crisis at the border with Mexico has persisted for many months, with drug smugglers and human traffickers being paid generous sums to transport migrants to the United States through treacherous, often inhumane conditions.
“So let’s discourage our friends, our neighbors, our family members from embarking on what is otherwise an extremely dangerous journey, and in large part the only people who benefit are coyotes,” Harris said.
When a reporter asked why Harris, who was tasked with managing the immigration situation, has not yet visited the border site, the vice president answered that the administration is prioritizing solving the underlying catalysts of migration over making “grand gestures.” Harris has emphasized that she will engage in diplomacy, such as with the leaders of Central American states like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, over emergency response.
Republican critics contend there’s been an intentional White House effort to disassociate Harris with the border assignment role and responsibility Biden originally tapped her for. In late April, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki clarified that Harris’s “focus is not on the border” but “on addressing the root causes in the Northern Triangle.”
During the briefing, Harris touched on some areas for improvement in Guatemala that could help deter migration, like U.S. entrepreneurial investment, anti-corruption initiatives, climate action, and other categories suggesting nation-building generally.