Kamala Harris came to solve problems in Central America. But the problem is now much bigger.


The recent influx of Haitians to Del Rio, Texas, has underscored the immense challenge of tackling ever-changing migratory flows. As efforts were launched in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to establish internet access and invest in farmers, thousands of migrants, mostly Haitians, came from South America, fleeing deteriorating conditions that have been exacerbated by the Coronavirus pandemic.

“They have a great strategy mapped out for Central America, but the flows have changed. They go way beyond the Northern Triangle. Now that complicates the narrative and the answer,” said Andrew Selee, president of Migration Policy Institute.

The State Department also funded digital adverts in Creole and Spanish targeting Haitian migrants to inform them about US border and immigration policies, a spokesperson told CNN.

The recent border crises have placed the administration in a politically perilous position. President Joe Biden faces a 49% disapproval rating and Americans are divided over his administration’s attention to stemming the flow of migrants. Harris, meanwhile, has come under constant criticism for not asserting himself enough on the US-Mexico border.

The administration is also trying to balance maintaining regional partners and doubling enforcement at the US-Mexico border to discourage irregular migration. It’s a delicate balance that, at times, has created tension.

This became evident over the summer when the Department of Homeland Security, working with Mexico, sent Guatemalans encountered at the US-Mexico border inside Mexico, dropping them off in a desolate area without any appeal. The move – intended to stop the repeated crossings – did not please Guatemala, a key partner of the United States in trying to tackle the root causes of migration in Central America.

“It does not correspond to this rhetorical and more humane approach to migration when they send deportees to a very remote area in the middle of the jungle where there is no infrastructure to receive them,” said a senior Guatemalan official. at CNN.

Guatemalan officials discussed it with Harris’s office and others in the administration in August, the official said. While it is not clear whether the vice president intervened, the Department of Homeland Security is now sending flights directly to Guatemala City.

Give hope to the house

In March, during an influx of unaccompanied migrant children, Biden tasked Harris with overseeing diplomatic efforts with the Northern Triangle. Most of the minors apprehended at the southern border of the United States come from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, an area where major hurricanes and the coronavirus pandemic have taken their toll.
In May, the White House announced a deal, dubbed a “Call to Action,” which included pledges from major companies like Microsoft, Mastercard, Chobani, Duolingo and Nespresso to invest in the region in the hope of stimulating economic opportunities. This was then followed by a 20-page root cause strategy that outlined the administration’s approach to improving conditions and creating opportunities in the region.

The administration has gradually made inroads on these fronts. In the past 90 days, Internet access has been implemented in an indigenous community of more than 4,000 people in Honduras, according to Jonathan Fantini Porter, co-founder and executive director of the Partnership for Central America. Fantini Porter also recently tasted the first cup of Honduran-sourced Nespresso coffee as the company makes inroads into it.

The idea, explained Fantini Porter, is to develop a system where the different needs of the same individual or family are met, so that they are more inclined to stay at home instead of migrating. If it is a farmer, for example, this could include providing resources and tools to ensure that they thrive by having buyers and access to banking services.

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Other private investments include Microsoft’s plan to expand internet access to up to 3 million people in the region by July 2022, as well as develop community centers to help teach internet skills. and digital to women and young people. And Mastercard hopes to help 5 million people in the region access banking services and help integrate 1 million micro and small businesses into a digital banking system. The Partnership for Central America also intends to increase and stabilize the incomes of 250,000 farmers and support 1.5 million families, said Fantini Porter.

Experts say these actions are important for improving conditions on the ground over time and argue that tackling migration across the hemisphere would require additional partnerships in the region, a point also recognized by the Secretary of State. Antony Blinken.

“We are facing a challenge which in many ways is unique with enormous pressure from illegal migratory flows coming in different ways, different parts of the hemisphere,” Blinken said at a press conference in Mexico this month. this. “We need to have a stronger regional approach to this challenge.”

Authorities in South America have been monitoring the increase in migrant movements in the region for months. Many fleeing migrants held informal jobs before the pandemic and were particularly vulnerable to extreme poverty as economies tightened last year.

Although the administration has deported more than 7,000 Haitians to Haiti, the migration flow through Panama – one of the transit countries when people move north – has not slowed, according to the minister’s office. of Panama Foreign Affairs.

Harris and his team have coordinated with the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, which are engaged with other regional partners, such as Panama, senior administration officials told CNN.

“The conversations with Panama are broader and fall under what we see as the category of migration management,” said one of the senior administration officials. “Although we are very coordinated, we don’t have these conversations, but others in the White House are.”

Harris’s focus, however, remains on the Northern Triangle.

To achieve sustainability, some level of government buy-in will be needed, argued Matt Rooney, CEO of the Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative. and member of the Central American Partnership working group. And it can be complicated by the systemic issues plaguing Central American governments.

In El Salvador, there are concerns about limiting the checks and balances in government, while in Honduras, where the president has been implicated in a drug trafficking case, there are more concerns about corruption in government. And in Guatemala, government corruption is also a cause for concern.

“You have to ask yourself in this case: why aren’t there more? And why are there companies in the United States that operate in industries that, where you could do business in Central America, why don’t they do business in Central America? ” Rooney said. “The answer to this question is that there are malfunctions in the investment environment.”

In line with the administration’s strategy on root causes, the promotion of a “business-friendly environment” by implementing reforms. Senior administration officials acknowledged that tackling corruption and bringing about change in governments is a challenge, but reaffirmed that for countries to prosper, infrastructure must be put in place to facilitate economic growth.

“There are going to be ups and downs along the way,” a senior administration official told CNN. “Really, the only long-term solution to the regional migration patterns that we see in these three countries in particular is to create the conditions for people to have hope at home.”

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