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Kamala Harris prepares to travel to Guatemala and Mexico for first foreign trip as vice president

Former ambassador to Mexico talks migration
Former ambassador to Mexico talks migration 10:05

Vice President Kamala Harris has spent months getting ready for her first international trip, a visit early next week to Guatemala and Mexico. She's been tasked by President Biden with leading the administration's diplomatic efforts with the Northern Triangle countries and Mexico to help stem the flow of migration at the southern border.

She'll be leaving for the region on Sunday, June 6, and over the following two days will be meeting with the presidents of the two nations and checking in with organizers on the ground.

"The goal of the vice president's trip is to deepen our strategic partnership and bilateral relationship with both the Guatemalan and Mexican governments to advance a comprehensive strategy to tackle the causes of migration," senior adviser Symone Sanders said on a call with reporters Tuesday night. "We will also engage community leaders, workers, young innovators and entrepreneurs and others about ways to provide economic security, address the core factors of migration, and to give people the hope for a better life at home."

Sanders said the vice president would also discuss COVID-19 vaccination aid with the leaders of both countries.

US-POLITICS-BIDEN-MEMORIAL DAY
US Vice President Kamala Harris listens as US President Joe Biden delivers an address at the 153rd National Memorial Day Observance at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day in Arlington, Virginia on May 31, 2021. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

According to Sanders, the vice president will be addressing factors such as natural disasters, food insecurities and climate change, as well as poverty, violence and corruption.

In March, the president asked Harris to lead the administration's diplomatic efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Mr. Biden had the same responsibility as vice president in the Obama administration.

"The citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras are leaving their homes at alarming rates.  But there's a fundamental truth behind that headline: People in the region do not want to leave their homes." Harris said at the Virtual Washington Conference on the Americas in May.

Since assuming the role, Harris has held virtual bilateral meetings with the presidents of both Guatemala and Mexico, has pledged an additional $310 million to the Northern Triangle countries for humanitarian relief, and last week, announced that 12 companies have made commitments to promote economic opportunity in the region as part of a Call to Action effort. Among the companies to make commitments are MasterCard and Microsoft.

Mexico receives much of the Biden administration's attention, given its location and economic ties, but Guatemala has emerged as a key partner on migration since the start of the Biden administration.

That's partly because of its geography: The country of 16.5 million people, roughly the size of Ohio, shares a border with Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras and the two other Central American countries are led by increasingly unstable governments. Most unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months came from Guatemala; U.S. officials attribute this to the country's struggling economy, which has been hurt by reduced agricultural output caused by natural disasters and drought, as well as a decline in tourism revenues during the pandemic.

President Alejandro Giammattei was elected president of Guatemala in 2019 and is seen as leading a more stable government than Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras, whose brother was indicted in the U.S. for drug possession last year and Nayib Bukele of El Salvador, whose party now has total control of the country's government and has moved in recent weeks to strip the nation's judicial sector of many of its rights. Bukele has been taunting U.S. officials on Twitter, including Representative Norma Torres, a Democrat from California who was born in Guatemala and has sharply criticized many of the region's leaders for corruption.

In Guatemala, the first leg of the vice president's trip, Harris will meet with local entrepreneurs as well as Giammattei, Mazin Alfaqih, special adviser to the vice president for the Northern Triangle, told reporters.

Aides to both leaders tell CBS News that their meeting is expected to focus on the administration's concerns with deep-rooted government corruption, threats to the country's judicial independence and long-running U.S.-Guatemalan missions to target drug traffickers and the Guatemalan government's desire for more economic aid, especially in the form of private sector investment

Alfaqih noted that the U.S. would increase the number of security officials in the region to "provide training and other capacity building," and said the White House continues to work towards providing resources for asylum seekers in their home countries.

"One of the things that was agreed to in the last meeting and one of the things we're working on is our migrant resource centers in the region." Alfaqih said. "And so we anticipate that the first migrant resource center will be opened in Guatemala. [We] look forward to other resource centers being opened around the country, [and] in the region that would offer assistance to would-be migrants in their home countries."

Harris has been preparing for this trip by having conversations with people who know the region and its challenges well: White House officials, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), private sector entities, foundation leaders and Guatemalan justice leaders.

Following her meeting with the CHC in May, caucus chair Dr. Raul Ruiz called the administration's approach to the region addressing the root causes of migration from the region, "professional, humane, and smart."

"The CHC will continue to lead in Congress and collaborate under Vice President Harris' strong leadership to strengthen the Northern Triangle countries' governmental institutions, combat corruption and impunity, increase economic opportunity, reduce violence, and provide immediate and long-term humanitarian assistance for natural disaster preparedness." Ruiz said in a statement.

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