Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei Says Stopping Migrants Requires 'Walls of Prosperity'

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei has said that the only way to stop migration from his region into the U.S. is with "walls of prosperity," not physical barriers.

"No one abandons their home, their family or their land on a lark," Giammattei told ABC News. "People who do it out of need have to find in their country enough guarantees that they will have opportunities. And that is what we have been talking about with Vice President Harris and President Biden, about the need to build walls of prosperity as opposed to the physical walls."

"The high walls, those, anyone can cross," Giammattei added. "Physical walls don't stop immigration, not when they hire someone like El Chapo Guzman to dig a tunnel and cross underneath. The wall doesn't stop it. The only thing that stops a person is a wall of prosperity."

Guatemala is one of three countries in the Northern Triangle region of Central America. The region, which also includes El Salvador and Honduras, is the primary source of migrants to the United States. In 2018 alone, at least 116,000 Guatemalans crossed the southern U.S. border. The amount was more than from any other country except Mexico, according to National Geographic.

Guatemala President Alejandro Giammattei immigration walls prosperity
Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei has said that "walls of prosperity" are the only thing that can stop migration from one country to another. He added that physical walls can be navigated around. In this photo, Giammattei speaks during an interview with AFP in Guatemala City on August 12, 2019. Johan Ordonez / AFP/Getty

The immigrants largely flee the region to escape high murder rates, gang violence, low employment as well as a lack of access to food, necessities and social services. Recent droughts and hurricanes have worsened conditions in the region.

In his Thursday interview, Giammattei said that his presidency hasn't been plagued by the corruption of past administration. However, he said that drug cartels continue to corrupt politics across his country. He also said that he believes Guatemalans have been emigrating to the U.S. under the belief that Biden may allow them into the country.

Former President Donald Trump cut federal funding to the Northern Triangle during his administration to "punish" the region for the large number of migrants that left the area for the United States.

Trump cut off nearly $450 million in annual funding to local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as a result. The NGOs provided childhood education, farming skills, domestic violence shelters, medical clinics, funding for local business initiatives and other community services including anti-corruption and transparency training for local governments.

After Biden won the 2020 election, he pledged to try to reduce Central and South American migration to the United States. His administration is developing an aid package that will encourage regional governments to "clean up their police, increase tax collection, fight corruption and create the opportunities necessary to convince would-be migrants to remain in their countries."

Newsweek contacted the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala for comment.