Kamala Harris Sticks to 'Root Causes' Migration Message, Doesn't Respond to AOC's Criticism

On her trip to Mexico and Guatemala, Vice President Kamala Harris emphasized the United States' commitment to dealing with the "root causes" of migration, including poor economic conditions that force people to flee to the U.S.-Mexican border from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

However, Harris received criticism for her comments dissuading migration to the U.S.

"I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come. Do not come," Harris said.

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called her comments "disappointing."

"This is disappointing to see," Ocasio-Cortex said in a tweet. "First, seeking asylum at any US border is a 100% legal method of arrival. Second, the US spent decades contributing to regime change and destabilization in Latin America. We can't help set someone's house on fire and then blame them for fleeing."

This is disappointing to see.

First, seeking asylum at any US border is a 100% legal method of arrival.

Second, the US spent decades contributing to regime change and destabilization in Latin America. We can’t help set someone’s house on fire and then blame them for fleeing. https://t.co/vADyh5H0bw

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) June 7, 2021

Harris did not directly respond to Ocasio-Cortez's criticism.

"I'm really clear: we have to deal with the root causes and that is my hope. Period," Harris said, according to the Associated Press.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Kamala Harris Mexico
President of Mexico Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Vice President of U.S. Kamala Harris arrive during a private meeting at Palacio Nacional on June 8 in Mexico City, Mexico. On her trip, Harris discussed the strong relationship between the U.S. and Mexico and emphasized her desire to get to the "root causes" of migration from Latin America to the United States. Hector Vivas/Getty Images

Harris told Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador the United States and Mexico are "embarking on a new era" during her first in-person meeting with the leader, as she seeks to foster greater cooperation with Mexico on immigration to the U.S.

Speaking at the start of their bilateral meeting at the Mexican national palace, Harris emphasized the "longstanding relationship" between the two nations and their "interdependence and interconnection."

Joined by a number of her top foreign policy aides for the region, the two foreign leaders met for over an hour in an elegant conference room at the palace, seated across from each other under a grand crystal chandelier.

Just prior to the meeting, Harris and López Obrador watched as the Mexican foreign affairs secretary and the charge d'affaires of the U.S. embassy in Mexico signed a memorandum of understanding establishing greater cooperation between the two nations on development programs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Harris was later slated to meet with female entrepreneurs and labor leaders in Mexico, before heading back to Washington Tuesday night.

While her visit to Mexico didn't deliver as clear and concrete an agreement, Harris emphasized the importance of the relationship between the two nations.

"We have a partnership, a longstanding partnership. Other than Canada, we are the closest neighbors to each other," Harris told reporters Monday night.

López Obrador remains a key, but complicated, ally in the Biden administration's efforts to curb the spike in migration at the U.S. border.

While López Obrador committed in a previous virtual meeting with Harris that the U.S. can "count on us" to help address the issue of irregular migration, the Mexican president has in the past blamed President Joe Biden for the increase in migration at the border. And he was chummy with his predecessor, President Donald Trump, despite Trump's hardline policies toward migrants.

Early last month, he also accused the U.S. of violating Mexico's sovereignty for giving money to non-governmental organizations that were critical of his government.

Harris' meeting with Lopez Obrador comes just days after the country's midterm elections, during which the president's party appeared poised to maintain its majority in Mexico's lower chamber of the congress, but fell short of a two-thirds majority as some voters boosted the struggling opposition, according to initial election results.

Harris is not expected to address the election results during her meeting with the president, but the bloody campaign—nearly three-dozen candidates or pre-candidates were killed as drug cartels sought to protect their interests—are certain to loom over their conversations. The government's inability to provide security in parts of the country is of interest to the U.S. in an immigration context, both for the people who are displaced by violence and the impact it has on a severely weakened economy trying to reemerge from the pandemic.

The increase in migration at the border has become one of the major challenges confronting Biden in the early months of his first term, with Republicans seizing on an issue they see as politically advantageous as polling suggests Americans are less favorable toward Biden's approach to immigration than they are toward his policies on the economy and the COVID-19 pandemic.

They've tried to make Harris the face of that immigration policy, charging she and Biden are ignoring the issue because both have yet to visit the southern border. Harris told reporters Monday in Guatemala she was focused on addressing the root causes of migration in a way that delivers "tangible" results "as opposed to grand gestures."

Regardless of the eventual outcome of her meetings Tuesday, Mexico will remain a key partner in enforcement efforts at the border.

Illegal border crossings have increased steadily since April 2020, after Trump introduced pandemic-related powers to deny migrants the opportunity to seek asylum, but further accelerated under Biden, who quickly scrapped many of Trump's hardline border policies—most notably the "Remain in Mexico" program to make asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for court dates in U.S. immigration court.

U.S. border authorities encountered nearly 19,000 unaccompanied children in March, the highest on record. Overall, it had more than 170,000 encounters on the border in April, the highest level in more than 20 years though the numbers aren't directly comparable because getting stopped under pandemic-related authorities carries no legal consequences, resulting in many repeat crossings.

Kamala Harris Guatemala
Vice President Kamala Harris and Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, pose for an official photograph on June 7 at the National Palace in Guatemala City. Harris emphasized her desire to focus on the "root causes" of migration that compel people in Latin American countries to venture to the United States border. Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

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