By ALEXANDRA JAFFE, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday will announce commitments from a dozen companies and organizations to invest in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to address the root causes of migration from the region.
Participants include corporate giants such as Mastercard and Microsoft as well as Pro Mujer, a nonprofit that focuses on providing aid to low-income women in Latin America, along with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the World Economic Forum.
Leaders in the effort planned to join Harris virtually and in person at an event later Thursday at her ceremonial office. The vice president was expected to issue a “call to action” for businesses and nonprofits to make new commitments to promote economic opportunity in Central America. The aim is to focus aid on supporting vulnerable populations such as women and young people, and to invest in internet access, job-training programs and efforts to combat food shortages.
It’s part of Harris’ role in dealing with the root causes of migration to the United States, a task she was given by President Joe Biden in March. Harris has had multiple calls with the presidents of Guatemala and Mexico, and held meetings with interest groups, policy experts and companies from the region.
She plans to visits Guatemala and Mexico in early June for her first trip abroad as vice president.
Harris has emphasized the need for economic development in the region and for public-private partnerships to address the challenges there. The administration is backing a proposal to provide $7 billion in assistance to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in hopes that the support can address the poverty and violence that leads people to flee to the U.S.
But the increase in migration at the border has become a significant political headache for Harris and Biden. Republicans accuse them of inaction on what they say is a crisis created in part by the president’s decision to halt construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall and end some restrictions on asylum-seekers.
April was the second-busiest month on record for unaccompanied children encountered at the border, following March’s all-time high, and the Border Patrol’s total encounters in April were up 3% from March, marking the highest level since April 2000. The April encounters are not directly comparable because most of those stopped were quickly expelled from the United States under federal pandemic-related powers that deny rights to seek asylum, and because being expelled carries no legal penalty, many try to cross multiple times.
The increase has strained the capacity of the Border Patrol and the Department of Health and Human Services, which holds the minors in shelters until they can be placed with relatives or sponsors in the U.S. while authorities determine whether they have a legal right to remain in the country, either through asylum or for some other reason. It also has led to criticism from Republicans, who point to Harris and Biden’s decision not to visit the border to survey the situation as evidence of their negligence.