Harris outlines strategy to fight root causes of migration

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Vice President Harris on Thursday released a sweeping strategy to address the root causes of migration amid a surge in U.S.-Mexico border crossings, including refocusing on engagement with Central America. 

While the plan does not include a detailed timeline or specific policy actions to be taken, the 18-page report organizes Harris’s strategy into several pillars, including addressing economic insecurity and inequality, combating corruption and strengthening democratic governance and promoting respect for human rights.

The pillars also include addressing violence and crimes committed by criminal gangs and trafficking networks, as well as curbing sexual, gender-based and domestic violence. 

In Central America, the root causes of migration run deep—and migration from the region has a direct impact on the United States,” Harris said in a statement that accompanied the strategy, which was released by the White House National Security Council.

“For that reason, our nation must consistently engage with the region to address the hardships that cause people to leave Central America and come to our border,” she added. 

“For decades, our nation has engaged in Central America,” Harris continued. “Often well intentioned, the engagement has often not been consistent. And over the last few years, the United States significantly pulled back from work in the region.” 

Harris said that she and President Biden, who in March tapped her to lead efforts to address root causes of migration by engaging with the Northern Triangle countries and Mexico, “have restarted our nation’s engagement in Central America and diplomatic efforts with Central American governments,” she argued. 

Harris went on to say that providing COVID-19 relief and other support following “extreme weather conditions,” which the vice president said have “exacerbated the root causes of migration,” is “not enough to alleviate suffering in the long term.”

Along with Harris’s plan, the White House on Thursday also released a Collaborative Migration Management Strategy, which it identified as “the first U.S. government strategy focused on strengthening cooperative efforts to manage safe, orderly, and humane migration in North and Central America.” 

The migration strategy includes several “lines of effort,” including stabilizing populations, improving and expanding temporary labor programs and expanding access to legal pathways for protection and opportunities to the United States.

“We’re not seeking to end migration as part of the fabric of this region,” a senior administration official told reporters Wednesday. “We have so many familial, cultural ties in Central America. What we’re seeking to change is the ways in which people migrate, to provide an alternative to the criminal smuggling and trafficking rings and to give people access to opportunity and protection through safe legal channels, safe legal pathways.”

But the migration management strategy also includes plans to expand protections for persecuted groups in their home country and seeks to “enhance efforts to resettle refugees from the region,” pushing those fleeing to look to nearby nation’s with asylum systems like Mexico and Costa Rica.

“This is really part of the effort to make sure people find protection closer to home,” Marta Youth, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, told reporters Thursday.

The new strategy focused on the root causes of migration was released days after the Biden administration unveiled a 21-point immigration strategy. The Department of Homeland Security earlier this week also resumed the practice of expedited removals.

Republicans have attacked the Biden administration over its immigration policies, arguing that its reversal of several Trump-era policies have encouraged illegal migration to the United States’ border with Mexico.

At the same time, Biden has come under pressure from some on the left who say the administration is not doing enough to help migrants. Biden has been urged to stop expelling migrants under the public health order Title 42, which has allowed border officials to immediately expel migrants they encounter between ports of entry during the coronavirus pandemic.

A senior administration official told reporters Wednesday that the White House would defer to health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on any decision to end Title 42.

The resumption of expedited removals has also triggered criticism from immigration advocates.

Harris at the start of June visited Mexico and Guatemala as part of her engagement to address the root causes of migration. Harris sparked criticism from immigration advocates when she told migrants “do not come” and said they would be turned back if they came to the border.

During that trip, Harris announced a number of new initiatives, including a joint task force to combat human trafficking and smuggling, a young women’s empowerment program and a U.S. anticorruption task force.

Harris later made her first trip to the border as vice president to meet with border agents and young migrants and highlighted the need to focus on the root causes for why people are making the journey to the U.S. from Mexico and countries in the Northern Triangle.

Rebecca Beitsch contributed. Updated at 3:43 p.m.

Tags biden administration Biden immigration policy border surge Central America Joe Biden U.S.-Mexico border White House

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