White House Releases Strategy to Slow Migration at Southern Border

July 29, 2021 by Dan McCue
White House Releases Strategy to Slow Migration at Southern Border
Vice President Kamala Harris (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — Vice President Kamala Harris said Thursday that efforts to address root causes of migration from three Central American countries won’t produce immediate results as she unveiled a broad strategy that expands on principles the Biden administration previously outlined.

The plan, which the administration calls its “Root Causes Strategy,” aims to identify, prioritize and coordinate federal actions to improve security, government, human rights, and economic conditions in the region.

But it also acknowledges that the United States alone cannot address all of the issues, including violence, poverty and corruption, that are driving people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

In unveiling the plan, Harris said the governments of Mexico, Japan and South Korea, along with the United Nations, have committed to joining the effort.


“We will build on what works, and we will pivot away from what does not work,” Harris wrote in an introduction to the 20-page plan. “It will not be easy, and progress will not be instantaneous, but we are committed to getting it right.”

The five sweeping goals of the plan are bettering economic prospects; rooting out corruption; promoting human rights, labor rights, and a free press; preventing gang violence; and combating sexual, gender-based and domestic violence.

The White House also released a “Collaborative Migration Management Strategy,” which President Joe Biden ordered in February to outline how the United States will work with other countries to address migration flows. 

The 14-page document summarizes earlier announcements and espouses goals that Biden and top aides have outlined before. 

They include expanding protections and job opportunities in countries where people are leaving, creating more legal pathways to come to the United States and fostering “secure and humane management of borders.”

Biden tasked Harris to lead efforts to stem migration across the U.S.-Mexico border in March, at a time when the the administration was facing growing political pressure to address a surge in undocumented migrant children unaccompanied by parents at the southern border.

Biden said at the time that he asked Harris to lead the administration’s efforts to help the nations in Central America’s so-called “northern triangle,” to “stem the movement of so many folks.”

Administration officials said Harris’ role would focus on two tracks: both curbing the current flow of migrants and implementing a long-term strategy that addresses the root causes of migration. 

Biden put it simply: “If you deal with the problems in the country, it benefits everyone.”

During a conference call with reporters this week, a White House official said that in many respects, “the root causes piece the vice president is working on is the long pole in the tent.”

“It certainly is going to be the longest-term effort,” the official said. 


And there have already been surprises along the way.

For instance, last week, the top anti-corruption prosecutor in Guatemala was fired. 

In response, the Biden administration suspended assistance to Guatemala ‘s Office of the Prosecutor General.

Meanwhile, it’s feared that recent developments outside of Central America — such as the continued unrest in Cuba and the assassination of the Haitian president — will also send more migrants fleeing to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Harris visited Mexico and Guatemala in June, after weeks of criticism from Republicans and some moderate Democrats who argued that the administration lacked a clear strategy on migration.

While there, her blunt comments on migration — specifically, telling those who might be tempted to leave Guatemala not to come — prompted a new round of criticism from immigration advocates.

But officials on the call touted the vice president’s successes in the region during the call.

They pointed to her efforts to help disperse $250 million in “urgent” humanitarian relief in Central America; to her reaching out to other nations, asking them to increase their aid to the region; her encouraging the United Nations to develop a regional Humanitarian Response Plan for the region; and her discussion with private corporations to spur economic development in the three counties.

The initial group of 12 companies and organizations committed to providing $750 million in resources, and established a non-profit organization to support economic development efforts in the region – The Partnership for Central America. 

These initial commitments will provide financial services to small business owners, internet access and digital banking to rural communities, housing for low-income families, and reduced barriers to higher education, the officials said. 

Since the launch, over 150 companies and organizations have expressed interest in joining the effort.

The officials also said Harris has been “unwavering” in highlighting the problems of corruption, the need for reforms, and the vital importance of demonstrating commitment to the rule of law, judicial independence, human rights, and a strong civil society. 

“Working with the Department of Justice, the vice president launched an Anticorruption Task Force that will include U.S. prosecutors and law enforcement experts to investigate and prosecute corruption cases with a nexus in the United States and the region,” they said.


In addition to all this, they said, Harris brokered an agreement with the Mexican government to restart the high-level dialogue focused on the trafficking of weapons and drugs, and helped oversee the delivery of over 10 million COVID vaccine doses to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

“We’re not seeking to end migration,” one official said during the call. “We’re seeking to change the ways in which people migrate, provide an alternative to the criminal smuggling and trafficking rings, and to give people access to opportunity and protection through legal channels, legal pathways.”

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