(C) Reuters. U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is greeted by officials as she disembarks from Air Force Two upon arrival at Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City, Mexico, for her first international trip as Vice President to Guatemala and Mexico, June 7,
By Nandita Bose
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris told Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador that relations were entering a “new era” as they agreed on Tuesday to deepen economic ties and invest in Central America to try to lower a record spike in migration.
Harris said talks with Lopez Obrador billed as focused on root causes of migration were “candid,” covering topics ranging from migration to security, vaccines, the pandemic and the drug fentanyl.
Much of the focus was on improving livelihoods in the region, and the United States pledged $130 million to support worker rights in Mexico, a Harris aide said.
“I strongly believe that we are embarking on a new era that makes clear the interdependence and interconnection between nations,” Harris said. Lopez Obrador said the meeting was pleasant and beneficial for both nations.
The administration of President Joe Biden has been struggling with the number of migrant children and families arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, mainly from Central America, and Biden has tasked Harris with trying to solve the issue.
Since Biden took office in January, the number of migrants taken into custody per month at the border has risen to the highest levels in 20 years.
Lopez Obrador, who built a working relationship with Donald Trump despite the former U.S. president’s economic threats and insults against Mexico over migration, said his government was very interested in maintaining good relations with Washington.
It was not immediately clear if Harris used the meeting to push Mexico to further intensify efforts to detain migrants, many of whom escape poverty, crime and corruption in Central America to travel through Mexico to the U.S. border.
Harris said the talks were “very productive,” including a significant amount of time one-on-one with Lopez Obrador, a veteran leftist.
A White House official said Harris spent more than an hour in private meetings with Lopez Obrador.
The economy, security cooperation and development in southern Mexico and Central America were addressed, Ebrard said.
Harris spokeswoman and senior adviser Symone Sanders had said on Monday the two sides would discuss stepping up enforcement. However, Ebrard said they would not.
“We are not going to talk about operations or other things,” Ebrard said earlier on Tuesday.
The administration sees Mexico as an important partner both on slowing the flow and on working on development in Central America, where relations between national governments and Washington are increasingly fraught.
Washington and Mexico largely agree they need to attack underlying causes of poverty and violence to stem migration from Central America’s “Northern Triangle” – El Salvador Guatemala and Honduras.
Mexico detained 91,000 illegal migrants in the five months of the year, immigration authorities said on Monday, with minors making up a fifth of all detentions. Some members of the Biden administration think Mexico could do more.
Harris is on her first trip abroad since taking office. She has promised an additional $310 million in aid to soothe the impact of the pandemic and hurricanes last year in Central America.
Mexico has implemented domestic cash-for-tree-planting and youth unemployment benefit programs to El Salvador and Honduras on a limited scale and plans to add Guatemala, Ebrard said on Tuesday before the Harris meeting.
On Monday, Harris met with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei and said the two leaders had “robust” talks on fighting corruption to deter migration from Central America.
At that meeting, Harris told potential migrants “Do not come,” to the United States, a blunt statement that immigration advocates said went against the spirit of the administration’s commitment to a more humane approach to managing migration.
Harris says Mexico talks ‘candid,’ pledges investment to stem migration