Harris still struggling to tackle immigration, a year on

(CNN) — The Vice President of the United States, KamalaHarris, He had a call at the end of May with the president of Honduras, Xiomara Castro, in which he took the opportunity to give a subtle push that would perfectly encapsulate his tense task of addressing the root causes of migration to the southern border.

From his White House office, he received updates on the Central American leader’s progress in the fight against corruption, a source familiar with the planning told CNN. And in return, Harris delivered a succinct message: The United States would welcome Castro’s participation in the high-level Summit of the Americas that President Joe Biden will host this week in Los Angeles.

But this Monday Castro —at whose inauguration attended Harris just a few months ago—confirmed that she would not participate (the president had conditioned her attendance on inviting all the countries of the Americas to the summit). Nor did the leaders of the other two nations—Guatemala and El Salvador—who are in Harris’ portfolio confirm his attendance. And despite the efforts that Harris and his team have made to cultivate relationships in the region during his high-profile trips and to secure $1.2 billion in private investment to bolster regional economies, significant hurdles remain in addressing the drivers of migration in the Northern Triangle nations.

A White House official maintained that “progress is being seen” and that the vice president plans to launch a new package of measures linked to the private sector, along with a new women’s empowerment program that is intended to be a continuation of the strategy of root causes established last year.

Kamala Harris and immigration

But like previous administrations, finding a reliable partner in the region has proven difficult.

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In El Salvador, there has been concern about limited checks and balances in government, while in Guatemala, there has been concern about government corruption. And in Honduras, there was even greater concern about corruption within the government before Castro’s election. Now that she has been elected, Castro has worked to advance the eradication of corruption, the restoration of democracy and the reduction of organized crime, which has seriously affected the country for decades. The Biden Administration has pointed out that all of these problems play an important role in the increase in migration.

Experts in the region say that this summit offers Harris an opportunity, on American soil, to show the progress he has made.

“I really think it’s an important moment,” Sergio Gonzales, executive director of the Immigration Center and a former political adviser to then-Sen. Harris, told CNN in an interview.

“Not just in terms of the policies that the administration is going to deploy at the summit and the cooperation that they’re going to seek with the other leaders that are in attendance. But I think also in terms of communication throughout the summit, ‘Here’s the progress we’ve done, and here’s how we’re going to continue to move this work forward,'” he added.

Harris will participate in a week of events during the Summit of the Americas aimed at highlighting her efforts to address the root causes of migration in Central America.

“The Vice President is focused on creating a prosperous and inclusive future for the people of the Western Hemisphere,” a White House official said.

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In particular, Harris will deliver speeches to launch “new private and public sector initiatives to promote women’s economic empowerment and address gender-based violence in the region” and will host a roundtable with business executives where “will announce new and important investments in the region by the private sector.”

Harris relies on private investment

Since being commissioned with this portfolio last year, Harris has relied on the private sector to bolster support for Central America. In May, en route to the United Arab Emirates, Harris called the leaders of the Alliance for Central America (PCA) while on Air Force Two. The association acts as a link between the companies and the US government.

Under Harris, US initiatives have already provided “micro and small businesses with access to $100 million in financing to support the region’s economic recovery,” according to a White House fact sheet released in April. US support for private sector investment has also helped create “more than 70,000” new jobs. And an anti-corruption task force was created to prioritize prosecuting corrupt agents in the region.

Experts credit his ability to secure private sector investments as Harris’s most visible move in the region to date, leading to commitments from major companies including Microsoft, Mastercard, Chobani, Duolingo, Nespresso, Bancolombia and Davivienda.

Nespresso, for example, works with more than 1,200 farmers in the region and sources coffee from farms in Honduras and El Salvador for the first time in the company’s history. Microsoft plans to expand Internet access to millions of people in the region before July. Along the way, the vice president has received regular updates and spoken with executives who have committed to investing in the region, the sources say.

But the tangible impact of these investments has yet to be widespread, and the heavy focus on the private sector has raised concerns among those who want to put more emphasis on other issues driving migration.

Kamala Harris Announces New Investments in Central America 0:46

“It appears that a plan focused on private sector investment cannot by itself address the root causes, ranging from internal displacement and poverty to – of course – violence, corruption and natural disasters, plus the added factor , and I think increasingly, climate change,” Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, a member of the US Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told CNN, praising Harris for taking on the task.

Ana María Méndez-Dardón, director for Central America of the Washington Office on Latin America, argued that the aid for the pandemic provided by the US – under the leadership of Harris and Biden – has had a greater effect in Central America. The US government has delivered more than 15 million free vaccines bilaterally and in partnership with Covax, a global entity that supplies vaccines in bulk around the world, to the countries of the north of the region.

Méndez-Dardón said he would like to see an increase in short-term efforts focused on corruption, such as sanctions on perpetrators, to reduce the ability of regional officials to degrade the rule of law, while long-term economic investments deadline to stop migration take time.

Aside from the private sector commitments, Harris plans to introduce a new initiative focused on women’s participation in the economy, promoting gender parity and combating gender-based violence, say people familiar with the matter. plan.

Jason Marczak, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Center for Latin America, applauded those efforts, adding that, going forward, it will be essential to find long-term opportunities and find consensus in Congress so that initiatives can “go beyond an administration”.

Addressing Immigration in the Western Hemisphere

Immigration remains at record highs amid deteriorating conditions in Latin America, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

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On the southern border of the United States, the Customs and Border Protection Service detained more than 310,000 migrants from the Northern Triangle –Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador– between October and April, according to agency data. But a new trend has also been taking shape that has posed a challenge for the administration: close to 40% of those who cross the border now come from countries other than Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

More than 6 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants have fled the country, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Nicaraguans have also increasingly emigrated, as well as Haitians who moved to the region years ago.

The Summit of the Americas will serve as a platform for the Biden administration, the leaders of the countries of the region, and the public and private sectors to reach agreements on the way forward to stop the flow of irregular migration. Harris has not expanded her portfolio of root causes beyond the Northern Triangle countries, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.

Administration officials have focused on expanding legal pathways for migrants moving in the hemisphere, not only to the United States, but also to other countries in the region where opportunities may exist.

“One area where there is a lot of common ground is that we have a huge job shortage in countries like the US, Canada, Mexico and Spain. One of the main drivers is people out of work, how do we link the two?” a senior administration official asked CNN.

Officials are also preparing announcements about resettling refugees and expanding family reunification to other countries, a path offered to people who have a family member in the United States.

The summit is also expected to discuss stabilizing countries that are already hosting immigrants but are facing a number of challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the senior administration official said, citing Colombia, Ecuador and Chile.

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