Mexico City – US Vice President Kamala Harris told Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador that both nations are “embarking on a new era.” During her first in-person meeting, the official sought to foster greater cooperation with Mexico on migrants heading to the United States.
Speaking at the beginning of a meeting at the National Palace in Mexico City, Harris emphasized the “long-standing relationship” between the two nations and their “interdependence and interconnectedness.”
Accompanied by several of their top foreign policy advisers for the region, the two leaders met for more than an hour in an elegant conference room in the palace, seated opposite each other under a huge crystal chandelier.
Just before the meeting, Harris and López Obrador saw the Mexican Foreign Secretary and the Charge d’Affaires of the United States Embassy in Mexico signing a memorandum of understanding focused on strengthening bilateral cooperation in development programs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
Harris was scheduled to later meet with businesswomen and labor leaders in Mexico, before returning to Washington on Tuesday night.
The visit to Mexico culminated Harris’s first trip abroad as vice president, a short tour focused on addressing the root causes of migration that also brought her to Guatemala for the first time on Monday.
While in Guatemala, he met with President Alejandro Giammattei. Coinciding with the meeting, the Biden government announced new commitments in the fight against drug trafficking, human trafficking and corruption, as well as investments in the economic development of the Central American country.
Although the meeting with López Obrador on Tuesday did not produce such a clear and concrete agreement, Harris emphasized the importance of the relationship between the two nations.
“We have an agreement, a lasting agreement. Except for Canada, we are our closest neighbors, ”Harris told reporters Monday night.
President López Obrador remains a crucial but complex ally in the Biden administration’s efforts to curb increased migration to Mexico’s border with the United States.
Although López Obrador assured in a previous virtual meeting with Harris that the United States can “count on us” to address the issue of irregular migration, the president of Mexico previously blamed Biden for the increase in arrivals at the border. Additionally, López Obrador had a cordial relationship with his predecessor, Donald Trump, despite the harsh immigration policies of the former president.
At the beginning of last month López Obrador also accused the United States of infringing Mexican sovereignty by giving money to n on-governmental organizations that are critical of his government.
But Harris, in his mission to address the causes of increased immigration from the Northern Triangle countries – Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – as well as from Mexico, has tried to strengthen diplomatic ties with López Obrador.
Harris’s advisers said during their meeting with López Obrador that the two governments will analyze the vaccine exchange, the economic and security relationship between the two nations and how to address the root causes of migration from other countries in the region. Harris speaks frequently of the need to improve the economic conditions of the residents of the area, so that they do not feel the need to travel to the border with the United States.
The memorandum of understanding, according to special envoy Ricardo Zúñiga – who traveled with Harris on the tour – marks a new level of cooperation and is important because the two countries have “some of the same problems” when it comes to irregular immigration.
“It is very important to show that the United States and Mexico are collaborating and trying to improve conditions on the ground between our neighbors, because of the importance that other countries in Central America have for us,” he told reporters traveling with Harris.
Harris’ visit came just days after the midterm elections in Mexico, in which López Obrador’s party seemed on track to maintain its majority in the lower house of Congress, although without reaching a qualified majority of two-thirds, because some Voters backed the opposition, according to preliminary results.
Harris was not expected to comment on the election results during the meeting with the president, although the violent campaign – some thirty candidates or candidates were assassinated as part of the drug cartels’ efforts to protect their interests – surely weighed on their conversations. .
The inability of the Mexican government to maintain security in parts of the country is of concern to the United States in the context of immigration, both because of people displaced by the violence and because of the impact it has on a battered economy trying to recover from the crisis. pandemic.
Still, while advisers say corruption was a key issue in his meeting with Giammattei, it was unclear whether Harris would raise the issue with López Obrador.
The increase in migrants at the border has become one of the main challenges for Biden in the first months of his term. Republicans have highlighted an issue they see as favorable to their side, as polls indicate that Americans are less supportive of Biden’s immigration strategy than his economic and COVID-19 policies.
They have tried to make Harris the face of that immigration policy, claiming that she and Biden are ignorant of the issue because neither of them have yet visited the southern border of the United States. The vice president told reporters in Guatemala on Monday that she has focused on addressing the causes of immigration in a way that produces “tangible” results, rather than “grand gestures.”
Regardless of the outcome of their meetings on Tuesday, Mexico will continue to be a key partner in border control efforts.
Illegal crossings have grown steadily since April 2020, after then-President Trump used restrictions associated with the pandemic to deny migrants the possibility of seeking asylum. The trend has accelerated further under Biden’s tenure, who quickly repealed many of Trump’s toughest border policies, especially the program that forced asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while awaiting their court dates in US courts. immigration.
US border authorities found nearly 19,000 unaccompanied children in March, the highest number on record. In total, they found 170,000 people at the border during April, the highest number in more than 20 years, although the numbers cannot be directly compared because the people who are prevented from crossing under the restrictions associated with the pandemic do not suffer legal consequences. so that many cross several times.