“Do not come”. Those two words marked the first official trip abroad for Kamala Harris, the vice president of the United States. The phrase enunciated on Monday in the National Palace of Guatemala sought to change their minds to tens of thousands of Central Americans who plan to migrate to the north fleeing violence, poverty and the effects of climate change. The words unleashed a wave of criticism in the United States. Republicans and supporters of Donald Trump have complained that Harris has yet to visit the Mexican border, a task President Joe Biden has left in his hands in hopes of reducing irregular immigration. The more progressive sectors of the Democratic party, on the other hand, were offended by the directness of the message, which they considered a cheap blow from an Administration that tries to show a human face in contrast to the four years of xenophobic policies of the Trump era.
Harris is not the first senior Biden administration official to launch a message to discourage illegal immigration. Antony Blinken, the head of US diplomacy, communicated a similar idea in a virtual meeting with Mexican authorities when the Democrats were serving a month in the White House. The vice president, the first woman to hold the position, did, however, from Central America with a head of state at her side, the Guatemalan Alejandro Giammattei. “This is disappointing,” said Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, left of the Democrats, who recalled in a tweet that migrating as a refugee to the United States is legal and that your country has spent decades “destabilizing” Latin America.
Jaina Pereyra, a political scientist at the London School of Economics who specializes in political discourse, believes that the message served its purpose and reached the audience for whom it was intended. Not for migrants, but for American citizens and especially Republicans. “It is a phrase that Trump could have said. It is a short-term message for Republicans because it weakens the signals that Trump has given that nothing is being done at the border, ”says Pereyra, who emphasizes that the message was encrypted. Harris read it, as he did not read other parts of the conference, and did not repeat it later in the media question session.
Guatemala and Mexico have provided the vice president with her first experience in international politics. “As a political figure, he grows by negotiating and navigating transcendental issues with heads of state,” says Andrés Martínez, professor of Journalism at Arizona State University and analyst of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Mexico. “Historically, vice presidents left the country only to represent the commander-in-chief at inaugurations or funerals,” he adds. Harris’ political maturation process is an obsession among Democrats, who see her as the natural heir to the 2024 presidential bid, when Biden will turn 80. The president, however, has not ruled out seeking re-election and believes he is the only one capable, when the time comes, of defeating Trump again.
The trip does not appear to have been a success. Various voices in the United States continue to question why Harris, in charge of dealing with the situation on the southern border, has not yet visited the area. From Guatemala, the vice president said that she preferred to visit the places where the problem of irregular emigration was generated. The approach to the region that she and Secretary of State Blinken have shown since the beginning of May at the 51st Conference of the Americas. The last time Harris visited the Texas-Mexico border was to ask for a vote for Biden in November 2020. Monday was stumbled during an interview with the NBC network. “Do you have plans to visit the border?” Asked journalist Lester Holt. “I am in Guatemala today … at some point we will go to the border … we have already gone to the border … All this point of going to the border, we have already gone,” the vice president replied. “You have not gone to the border,” the reporter corrected. “And I haven’t been to Europe either,” Harris said nervously.
In the same interview, the number two of Biden, which has remained de facto In charge of relations with Mexico, one of the most important commercial partners of the United States, she affirmed that the situation at the border was improving. But the data shows otherwise. May broke records again in a year that records the highest illegal migration in two decades. March was the first month in which the maximum arrivals were broken with more than 173,000 crossings of the border line. April got over it. Last month 180,000 irregular migrants crossed it.
The number of unaccompanied minors migrating to the United States has actually decreased. What was the most distinctive face of the crisis faced by the Biden Administration in its early months is beginning to change. In March, almost 19,000 migrant children and adolescents arrived unaccompanied. In May they were 14,158, 26% less. What continues to grow is the number of Mexicans crossing the border. Of the 180,000 crossings documented by border authorities, 70,600 were by Mexican citizens. In March, these were 62,500. It is the highest recorded in five years among Mexican migrants.
Despite this, Harris took the criticisms and complaints away from the spotlight and microphones and transferred them to a private interview with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The meeting took place before a bilateral meeting where, in addition to migration, security and trade issues were discussed. “It is a good signal. The moment requires frank talks behind closed doors ”, adds Martínez. A relationship that seeks a new tone with its sights set on 2024.
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