Harris staff says climate, economy among ‘main drivers’ of migration after Guatemala president blames US

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Vice President Kamala Harris’ staff on Sunday insisted that the “main drivers” of the migrant surge to the southern border are climate and the economy – as Harris arrived in Guatemala and after the Guatemalan president blamed the change in U.S. administrations for the crisis.

Harris spokesperson Symone Sanders told reporters that climate and the economy were among the “main drivers” of the surge in migrants that saw more than 178,000 migrants hit the border in April alone – a number that continued a spike in February and March.

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Officials also emphasized the role corruption plays in forcing migrants to make the journey north.

“We see corruption as one of the most important root causes to be dealt with,” special envoy Richard Zuniga said.

Critics have blamed the Biden administration’s rollback of Trump-era border restrictions and interior enforcement policies that they say have sent the signal to migrants that the border is open. The Biden administration has denied that, saying that the border is closed. Instead, it has emphasized the “root causes” of the crisis – focusing on climate, poverty, crime and corruption in Central America.

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Vice President Kamala Harris and Guatemala's Minister of Foreign Affairs Pedro Brolo wave at her arrival cermony in Guatemala City, Sunday, June 6, 2021, at Guatemalan Air Force Central Command. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Vice President Kamala Harris and Guatemala’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Pedro Brolo wave at her arrival cermony in Guatemala City, Sunday, June 6, 2021, at Guatemalan Air Force Central Command. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Harris, who was put in charge of diplomatic outreach to solve the crisis in March, has also emphasized the “root causes.”

“I’m thinking of corruption, violence and poverty, the lack of economic opportunity, the lack of climate adaptation and climate resilience, the lack of good governance,” she said last month.

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Harris is in Guatemala as part of a two-day trip to the region. On Monday, she will meet with President Alejandro Giammattei, with whom her office says she will discuss increasing economic opportunities and strengthening the rule of law, and deeper bilateral law enforcement cooperation, among other issues. After that meeting and others with community leaders and business owners, she will travel to Mexico.

But, in an interview aired Sunday, Giammattei said he and Harris “are not on the same side of the coin” on the issue, and blamed what he saw as a more welcoming message to migrants by the new administration for the surge.

“The message changed too: ‘We’re going to reunite families, we’re going to reunite children,’” he told CBS News. “The very next day, the coyotes were here organizing groups of children to take them to the United States.”

“We asked the United States government to send more of a clear message to prevent more people from leaving,” he said.

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Harris has come under criticism from in the U.S. as well, specifically for not having visited the border since being appointed to her role in dealing with the migration crisis – something critics say is vital for her to know how to tackle the crisis.