The U.S.’ first Black and Caribbean American vice president, Kamala Harris, is scheduled to kick-off the week to the Central American nations of Mexico and Guatemala for the first time since being handed the unofficial hot button title of ‘immigration czar’ in March.
Harris has never visited border towns impacted by the surge in migrants and her visit comes on the heels of the visit to Costa Rica for a meeting with Central American leaders by the U.S. State Department secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, last week. It also comes amid numbers that shows 178,672 migrants trying to enter the U.S. illegally were nabbed at the Southern Border in April, the latest data available.
Latest U.S. Customs and Border Patrol data show that was more than the 173,348 in March and the 101,120 in February. Of those in April, 37% were minors and families. Almost a third of those turned back in April had previously crossed, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Someone who is caught twice is counted twice. Most were from Mexico, but a lot were also from Guatemala and Honduras.
Jean Gough, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the United Nations’ refugee agency for children, said in an April statement that most of the shelters she visited across Mexico were overcrowded and could not accommodate the surging number of families and children arriving at the border.
Children represent more than 30% of migrants in Mexican shelters. Half of them traveled without their parents, one of the highest percentages of unaccompanied minors ever recorded in Mexico, Gough said.
The agency estimates about 150,000 children and families affected by violence and poverty in their places of origin will require humanitarian assistance in Mexico during the next two years.
VP Harris has said she is travelling to the two countries “to listen as much as I am to share perspective” on how to reduce migration. It is not unlikely Harris, like Gough, will visit any of the shelters while in Mexico.
Prior to her trip, Harris spoke twice with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador but has so far shied away from any press conferences on the border crisis.
She has also not directly communicated with the leaders of Honduras and El Salvador. So far, from her perch in D.C., the VP says she feels the U.S.’ way to solve the crisis of illegal migration at the Southern Border is to “build support for the folks who need help in terms of hunger and the economic development piece, the extreme weather and the impact that has had on their economy.”
Her comments come as the Biden administration has ramped up Spanish-language media campaigns in Central America that urge migrants to stay in their home countries as it seeks to repair what officials have called a fractured U.S. asylum system.
The administration has also kept many of Donald Trump’s immigration policies in place. Chief among them is Trump’s “Title 42,” which effectively seals the border under the argument that migrants trying to cross could pose a health risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This means that most migrants are immediately turned back, with the exception of children and some families. This was the same policy Biden and Harris criticized while running for the office. Now in power, both are fast realizing that there is no easy fix to the illegal migration crisis.
Going to Central America on a listening tour or telling would-be migrants to stay home is not real leadership President Biden, Vice President Harris.
The administration needs to push forward with a policy that allows migrants to apply for asylum at U.S. consulates in their home country, just like you would a visitor’s visa. Migrants should be able to file a Form I-589, Application for Asylum within one year of arrival to the United States not while in the U.S. with no fee required.
Additionally, migrants seeking to enter the U.S. should also be allowed to apply for temporary work visas at consulates in their homeland while the backlog in processing for work permits, green cards and extension of immigration documents, including citizenship, needs to be cleared and the delays curbed.
Technological enforcement of the border must also be beefed. It is the only way to send a strong message that illegal entries at the U.S. southern border or any side of the border, will not be tolerated while putting immigrants who can adjust their status in the U.S., on a fast-track.
VP Harris does not need to go all the way to Central America to hear this.
The writer is publisher of NewsAmericasNow