Kamala Harris has returned to the US from her first trip abroad and major tests since she became vice president – and took over the immigration issue with hot potatoes – battered by criticism over her harsh “Do not come” message to desperate migrants and her testy ambivalence about visiting the border between the United States and Mexico.
Harris returned to American soil from a three-day trip to Guatemala and Mexico, just as Joe Biden flew out to the UK on Wednesday on his first overseas venture since winning the White House.
His may be a higher-ranking visit aimed at reassuring European allies and confronting Russia after the divisive era of Donald Trump.
But Harris’ brief voyage was never sailed, either for the purpose of tackling “the root causes” of hundreds of thousands of migrants making the perilous journey to the southern border of America and seeking entry into the United States.
Most try to enter illegally or try to appeal to the border authorities to allow them to apply for asylum through the US courts.
With factors such as poverty and government corruption, a legacy of war and dictatorship, and as much foreign obstruction as help in Central American politics over the decades, every turn of a new U.S. president or vice president is fraught with high risk of failure.
On top of that, recent trends like increased migration, forced by the climate crisis, guaranteed that Harris would never achieve a one-size-fits-all solution.
But even though her hosts declared her visit a success, the “get tough” attitude she shouted at leaders against corruption was overshadowed by an awkward interview and criticism from American progressive torchbearers such as New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over her sharp remarks directed at migrants.
Ocasio-Cortez shouted Harris out on Twitter, saying her comments were “disappointing to see”.
“Firstly, seeking asylum at any U.S. border is a 100% legal method of arrival,” the congresswoman said, adding: “Second, the United States spent decades changing regime change and destabilizing Latin America. We can not help setting someone else’s house on fire and then blaming them for fleeing. ”
Several human rights groups also spoke out in favor of criticizing Harris’ remarks.
With illegal crossings into the United States across the U.S.-Mexico border accelerating in the first months of the Biden administration, as U.S. border authorities reported encountering nearly 19,000 unaccompanied children crossing in March, the pressure on Harris has been intense.
Biden put her to deal specifically with the border issue within a broader immigration policy, as the first weeks of his presidency included sharp reports and images of children crammed into detention centers on the U.S. side of the border with legal and social treatment systems overwhelmed.
In total, more than 170,000 meetings were reported at the border in April between migrants, mainly from Central America, and the US authorities, the highest level in more than 20 years.
Harris, who has been under pressure at home to visit the US-Mexico border since she was given the role but has not yet done so, focused her three-day visit on economic development, climate and food security.
In Guatemala, the origins of nearly half of the migrants gathered at the U.S. border in recent months, Harris and President Alejandro Giammattei expressed optimism that they could work together.
The Biden administration has earmarked almost DKK 4 billion. $ In commitments to help tackle the “root causes” of migration. Moreover, Harris was also honest in his message, saying “the goal of our work is to help Guatemalans find hope at home”.
But that was when Harris said in a speech, “I want to be aware of people in this region who are considering taking the dangerous trek to the U.S.-Mexico border: ‘Come on, don’t come,'” leading all over the American political and media landscape turned.
It is not a different message than people in the Biden administration have delivered publicly before. But the sharp statement that was actually made in a country where people are being driven off against desperation against the United States led to a strong response.
Ocasio-Cortez described his comments as “disappointing” and noted that it is legal to seek asylum in the United States from persecution in another country.
Harris replied only obliquely, saying, “I am really clear: we have to deal with the root causes, and that is my hope. Period.”
Harris was also forced to fend off criticism that she had not even visited the US-Mexico border since she became vice president. Such visits are a dangerous image for leaders who want to establish foreign and domestic policy credentials.
And she treated the subject awkwardly when asked in an early morning TV interview why she had not visited the border this year and said she had not been to Europe either.
“Well, we’re going to the border,” Harris added to NBC news anchor Lester Holt. “We have to deal with what is happening at the border, there is no doubt about that.”
Moving on from a brief stint in Guatemala to Mexico City, Harris sought to reassure poor and endangered people in Latin America on Tuesday that the United States has “capacity to give people a sense of hope” and is focused on “tangible” results “as opposed to to large movements ”.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Mexico was in a whole new phase of relations with the United States.
Eduardo Gamarra, a professor of international relations at Florida International University, told the Guardian that it was an important journey. “Harris issued a very important statement in rejecting the Republicans’ position that Democrats are pursuing an ‘open border’ policy, and she made it clear to Giammattei that the United States is willing to invest, but there must be significant changes in way corruption is handled, ”he said.