Harris Heads South: President Biden tasked Harris with addressing the root causes of the surge in migration to the US-Mexico border. Here’s what both sides are saying. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
Top Story: Harris Heads South
Roughly 25 minutes after taking off from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Sunday, Air Force Two was forced to land due to technical issues. The plane was carrying US Vice President Kamala Harris on her first foreign trip to Guatemala and Mexico. After exiting the plane, Harris gave a thumbs up to reporters, saying, “I’m good. I’m good. We all said a little prayer, but we’re good.” Harris was eventually able to head south and later arrived in Guatemala’s capital to kick off her two-day trip.
President Joe Biden has tasked Harris with addressing the root causes of the surge in migration to the US-Mexico border. In addition to discussing border security, economic investment, and vaccine sharing, Harris mainly focused on corruption during her meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei yesterday. She’s expected to broach the same subjects today with Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Here’s what both sides are saying about Harris’s trip, plus perspective from the Guatemalan president below:
On The Left
Left-leaning outlets and commentators believe Harris’s trip sends a message of hope to the embattled region. They outline that the focus should rest on much more than just the US-Mexico border. Some, however, wonder if President Biden is setting Harris up for failure in 2024.
Need to Address Entire Region: In a Washington Post op-ed from March, Greg Sargent outlines why Harris’ migration assignment “could help shift part of the conversation away from the media-centric idea that the sum total of this ‘crisis’ is what’s happening at the border, and focus it on the deeper causes of these migrations.” He says, “The real challenge entails addressing problems in Central America to reduce ‘push factors,’ i.e., conditions that spur these migrations in the first place — such as violence, instability, poverty, and, this time, hurricanes.” He believes “Republicans want to erase those from the conversation: If push factors are acknowledged, then migrants become more sympathetic.” Zooming out, Sargent says, “The crisis is not one that is primarily about the border. It’s one that concerns the region and the plight of the migrants themselves. Harris’s appointment can and should refocus the conversation on those things — and on the constructive role our country can play in helping develop solutions to them.”
Harris a Sign of Hope: In an op-ed for CNN, Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte, who served as the US Ambassador to El Salvador from 2012-2016, writes that “Harris’ trip to Central America is a change in posture for the United States. It sends a signal of hope to the region.” Aponte says, “While the previous administration was trying to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, institute a Muslim ban, slow the citizenship process, and separate families at the border, then-Senator Harris established herself as a leading voice against these atrocities — and she is well-positioned to lead the fight for a more humane and effective approach to immigration.” In addition to addressing corruption, Aponte believes “Harris’ visit also sends a clear message that the entire region is important to the US government and that it will not cede ground in Central America to countries like China.” Ultimately, Aponte argues that “We need real, evidence-based solutions that get at the heart of why migrants leave their homes and make the trek to the US. Anything less will lead to a continuation of a predictable cycle we’ve seen over again.”
Setting Harris Up for Failure? Finally, Peter Funt, an opinion contributor for USA Today, observes that “After a quiet start, President Joe Biden has put her in charge of two of the most radioactive issues facing the nation: immigration and voting rights.” He asks: “Is Biden setting up Kamala Harris for failure in 2024?” In regards to immigration specifically, Funt writes that “The White House is stressing that her mission is not to fix immigration at the US border but rather to address root causes prompting thousands of migrants to flee north from Central America and Mexico.” He takes readers back in time, pointing out that “When Biden was vice president in 2015, Obama gave him responsibility for a similar program that provided $1 billion to Central America. His efforts were largely wasted, as immigration continues to be an almost impossible challenge for both Democratic and Republican administrations.” Funt believes Harris has “a tougher job than any before her.” For example, “Obama put [Biden] in charge of the cancer ‘moonshot’ initiative – about as noncontroversial a role any vice president has ever had, except perhaps when Johnson named Hubert Humphrey head of the President’s Council on Recreation and Natural Beauty.”
On The Right
Right-leaning outlets and commentators generally focus on how long it took Harris to mobilize some sort of response to the crisis at the southern border. They aren’t convinced a 48-hour trip will do the trick and think much more attention is needed to address the issue.
Why Harris Polls Poorly: In an opinion piece for The Hill, contributor Joe Concha highlights “why Joe Biden polls well, but Kamala Harris does not.” Simply put, Concha believes it’s about job performance. At the time of his writing in mid-May, Harris had “been tasked with leading the administration’s response to the US-Mexico border catastrophe,” but there was inaction, Concha writes. He says in the seven weeks since then, Harris had not “Held a press conference to explain how she plans to tackle the crisis.” Concha wanted to hear more about the “178,000 migrants encountered at the border in April alone” and why Harris “once seemingly compared ICE to the KKK and argued that illegal border crossings should be legal.” Concha notes that Harris also hadn’t “visited the border itself, which would entail going to dangerously-overcrowded border facilities.” The columnist concludes by saying Harris’ poll numbers will likely continue to slump “because as the vice president is quickly finding out: complaining is easy; governing is hard.”
Harris Hopes to Avoid Blame: Writing for the New York Post, John Daniel Davidson begins by saying “Trump’s border policies might have seemed drastic after decades of feckless border policies from both parties, but they were also effective — if your goal was to secure the border against illegal crossings.” He believes “Trump succeeded where others had failed,” noting that “You don’t have to turn away that many people at the border before word gets back to the sending communities that the trip isn’t worth it.” Conversely, Davidson argues that Democrats “see today’s illegal immigrants as tomorrow’s liberal voters, and consider any border restrictions as somehow racist.” The thing is, “They know that a majority of Americans don’t agree with these policies [which is] why Vice President Kamala Harris, whom Biden tapped to lead the administration’s response, is scrambling to disassociate herself with the fiasco unfolding along the Rio Grande and has yet to visit the border.” Ultimately, Davidson says, “Biden doesn’t want Americans to pay attention to what’s happening there — and Harris doesn’t want to be saddled with the blame.”
Investors Not Convinced: Lastly, in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes that “One of Ms. Harris’s goals is to drum up investment for the region.” She adds: “Manage your expectations.” The reason why is because investors “distrust [Harris’] agenda.” O’Grady says “Harris showed her cards in Washington last month when she met with Guatemala’s former Attorney General Thelma Aldana, despite Ms. Aldana’s two outstanding Guatemalan arrest warrants on charges of corruption.” Additionally, “Former Guatemalan high-court judge Gloria Porras was at the same meeting, though there are scores of legal complaints against her at home for allegedly refusing to obey the constitution.” Zooming out, O’Grady says, “If the US vice president were serious about drawing investment to Guatemala, she would have told [Ms. Aldana and Ms. Porras] to go home and face justice.” The crux of the matter is that investors will feel jittery about sinking money into Guatemala so long as Harris keeps hanging out with questionable figures, O’Grady believes.
Flag This: Harris Heads South
In a May 4 YouGov/Economist poll, 36 percent of US adults surveyed said they had a “very unfavorable” opinion of Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris. On the other hand, 41 percent said they had either a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinion of the first female vice president.
On Sunday, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei told CBS News, “[Harris] doesn’t hold back, which is good.” However, he also said “We are not on the same side of the coin,” explaining “We are in agreement on the ‘what‘ of the immigration crisis,” which is something. We are in not agreement on the ‘how.'” In Giammattei’s perspective, “The change in [US] government led to a change in message,” mainly about family reunification. He says, “The very next day the coyotes here were organizing groups of children to take them to the United States.” Giammattei also said the US is making another “mistake,” which is looking at countries like Guatemala as our “backyard.” “We are the front yard,” he said. “And if the front yard is bad, how will the house be? If you all take care of your front yard, how will your house be?”
Flag Poll: Harris Heads South
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