Vice President Kamala Harris visited with Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Tuesday, kicking off a series of meetings in Mexico City to close out her trip to Central America, as she continues to work on the root causes of migration toward the U.S.
The two spoke about border security for both countries, economic development in the region, workers’ rights, trade, development and migrant smuggling.
“The issues that are longstanding, by virtue of the nature of them, are never going to be solved overnight,” Harris said in remarks to the press following the bilateral discussions. “But it is important that we make progress. And I remain optimistic about the potential for that progress. I also believe that if we see the capacity of the people, and if we invest in their capacity, we will see great returns on our investment.”
Harris also further responded to criticism that she has yet to visit the U.S.-Mexico border as vice president, pledging that she will do so in the near future. But she stressed that while fixing issues at the border is certainly important, it is equally — if not more important — to address the root causes of why people migrate to the United States.
“The problem at the border in large part, if not entirely, stems from the problems in these countries,” Harris said, referring to the home countries of migrants seeking to come to the United States, in particular El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
“I cannot say it enough: Most people don't want to leave home,” Harris continued. “And when they do, it is usually for one of two reasons. Either they are fleeing harm, or to stay home means that they can not satisfy the basic needs to sustain and take care of their families.”
To that end, the White House announced a series of new and continued bilateral initiatives following the meeting, and a number of high-level dialogues are planned between the two countries in upcoming months.
One, which will take place in September, will aim primarily to bolster “bilateral economic cooperation and collaboration” between the U.S. and Mexico, per the White House. Leaders from the two countries will discuss topics including trade facilitation, telecommunications and supply chain resiliency.
A key priority for both Mexico and the United States is border security, with officials particularly hoping to address transnational crime. A group of Cabinet members will meet to craft a joint response to transnational criminal organizations, although the White House did not specify a timeline for the discussion.
Increasing economic opportunities was a major focus of Harris’ trip to both Mexico and Guatemala the day before, as officials broadly hope financial security will aid stability and decrease migration through Mexico and to the United States.
Earlier Tuesday, the vice president participated in both a roundtable discussion with female entrepreneurs and a separate meeting with labor leaders to discuss the economy.
Some of the women at Tuesday’s roundtable included Paula Santilli, CEO of PepsiCo Latin America and Ingrid Orozco, CEO of Ulead International.
“I think we would all agree that when you lift up the economic status of women, you lift up the economic status of families, of neighborhoods, communities, and all of society benefits,” Harris told the group of female entrepreneurs. “And so the work that you have done as entrepreneurs is a great model of the work that is happening and can happen more around the globe.”
The White House announced a number of initiatives to aid economic growth in southern Mexico, in part by issuing a loan from the U.S. International Development Finance Cooperation to fund affordable housing in the region. The U.S. made a $130 million commitment over the next three years to support labor reforms in Mexico and loans to bolster southern Mexico’s economy.
The U.S. will aim to “create $250 million in new investment and sales in southern Mexico by strengthening rural value chains such as cacao, coffee, and eco-tourism.”
Also on Tuesday, the vice president and López Obrador witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries, an agreement to cooperate on development programs in the Central American region.
The agreement is meant to solidify partnerships between both countries to develop the entire region, Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle Ricardo Zúniga explained Monday, and he said two main focuses would be youth and deforestation.
“We are both destination countries for migration from Central America, and we both have some of the same issues trying to ensure that we have legal paths for migration,” he said.
According to a release from the White House, the U.S. and Mexico will facilitate “agricultural development and youth empowerment programs” across El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Additionally, the U.S. and Mexico will partner on human trafficking and addressing why people leave El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras for the U.S.
Harris visited Guatemala on Monday, and she offered an optimistic outlook for improved cooperation with the country on addressing the spike in migration to the U.S. after her meeting with President Alejandro Giammattei.
But she also delivered a direct warning to migrants considering making the trek.
“I want to emphasize that the goal of our work is to help Guatemalans find hope at home,” Harris said. “At the same time, I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come, do not come.”
Spectrum News' Rachel Tillman contributed to this report.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.