Guatemala’s president has accused Kamala Harris and Joe Biden of sending mixed messages about their southern border, accusing them of using ‘lukewarm’ words which were ripe to be exploited by criminal gangs.
Alejandro Giammattei, a conservative who took office in January 2020, spoke to Fox News on Monday for an interview which aired on Wednesday night.
He spoke shortly after Harris departed his country, after a day of meetings with Guatemalan leaders on her first foreign trip as vice president. Her trip was dogged with questions as to why, as Biden’s point-person on the border crisis, she was yet to visit the border itself – questions she angrily batted away, visibly irritated.
She insisted her visit was to deal with the ‘root causes’ of migration, such as poverty, corruption, violence and impunity, and climate change.
Giammattei, a former director of Guatemala’s prison service, said that Harris and Biden had initially been too welcoming to migrants.
Alejandro Giammattei, Guatemala’s president, spoke to Fox News on Monday – shortly after Kamala Harris left the country. His interview aired on Wednesday. Giammattei said once again that he believed Harris and Biden’s initial approach to migration was wrong, because their messaging about child reunification sent the idea that migrants would be welcomed
Harris and Giammattei are pictured on Monday arriving for a press conference at the National Palace in Guatemala City. During the press conference, Harris said her message to migrants was: ‘Do not come.’ Giammattei said that finally a strong, simple message was delivered
He said the ending of Donald Trump’s hardline policies such as child separation and sending unaccompanied minors back across into Mexico had backfired.
‘You can see that humanitarian messages were used here by the coyotes in a completely twisted way,’ he told Fox, using the colloquial term for a people trafficker.
‘They said that they were going to support family reunification.
‘So the coyotes came and took the children and teenagers to the United States.
‘And the border filled up. Not only with people from Guatemala, but lots of people.
‘That’s why we have suggested that the messaging be clear.’
Biden has promised to reunite families separated during the Trump administration and to expedite processing unaccompanied minors who arrived at the border in the last few months.
However, a new report from Biden’s task force on reuniting families indicates that 2,127 children have ‘not yet been reunified’ with their parents.
The task force progress report submitted to the president last week shows only seven children have successfully been reunited since Biden took office.
More than 16,200 children are still in custody of Health and Human Services, which is 50 per cent higher than the levels in March, the agency reported on Tuesday.
Giammattei praised Harris for her declaring on Monday that migrants considering the border should not come.
Harris and Guatemalan President Alejandro Giamattei (right) held a bilateral meeting in Guatemala on Monday as part of talks to deal with ‘root causes’ of mass migration from Latin America to the U.S.
Customs and Border Patrol number show record numbers of encounters with illegal crossers with a record-high of 178,622 in April alone, continuing on from massive spike in February and March
He said that, at last, a strong, simple message was sent.
‘The vice president yesterday sent a very clear message because she said: Do not come because we won’t let you in.
‘That’s a clear message,’ he said.
‘But if you have a lukewarm message, it opens up the possibility that there’s a bad interpretation of it.
‘You can say it in good faith. But there are people who will misinterpret it.’
He spoke as new figures showed illegal border crossings into the U.S. have exploded by 674 per cent in a year, with 180,034 recorded in May – the fourth consecutive monthly rise.
Newly-released figures from U.S. Customs and Border Protection show the number of migrants rocketed by more than six-fold from the 23,237 who crossed from Mexico into the United States in May 2020.
Last year’s number was far lower than usual because of the COVID-19 outbreak, but this year’s figures still spell worrying news for Biden, with 2021 on-track to record the highest number of illegal border crossings since 2006.
Illegal border crossings have increased for the fourth month in a row growing to 180,034 in May, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
That represented a slight increase over the approximately 178,000 migrants encountered in April and the 172,000 encountered in March at the southwest border.
In February, roughly 100,000 migrants illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border into the United States.
The 65-year-old also told Fox that he had suggested to Harris, in private, that the U.S. and Guatemala work together to prosecute the people traffickers, making huge amounts of money from some of the poorest people in the world to smuggle them across the border.
It was unclear whether she agreed to work with him on the initiative.
Harris doubled-down that she will not be visiting the border during her trip – or any time soon. ‘I will continue to be focused on [addressing root causes of migration and corruption] as opposed to grand gestures’
Giammattei has long criticized the Biden-Harris administration for spreading confusion.
On April 13, he told MSNBC: ‘I believe that in the first few weeks of the Biden administration, messages were confusing.
‘They were compassionate messages that were understood by people in our country, especially the coyotes, to tell families, ‘We’ll take the children.
‘And children can go, and once children are there, they will call their parents.’
Giammattei said he has seen coyotes carry out ‘horrible acts’, and criticized the U.S. for not properly responding to the surge of migrants.
Harris landed in Guatemala City on Sunday evening for her first out-of-country trip as vice president.
The border is closed: During the press conference, Harris warned those thinking of crossing illegally: ‘Do not come!’ She said, ‘I believe if you come to our border, you will be turned back’
She later flew to Mexico City, Mexico for the second part of her two-day Latin America trip.
Harris said during a press conference alongside Giammattei on Monday that she does not plan to visit the southern border because it would just be a ‘grand gesture’ as opposed to a genuine trip.
She vowed to take on corruption and insisted climate change was one of the driving forces behind people fleeing their homes and heading North.
‘On the issues of Republicans’ political attacks or criticism or even concerns, the reason I am here in Guatemala as my first trip as vice president of the United States is because this is one of our highest priorities,’ Harris said during a question and answer portion of her press conference.
‘I came here to be here on the ground, to speak with the leader of this nation around what we can do in a way that is significant, is tangible and has real results,’ she continued.
‘And I will continue to be focused on that kind of work as opposed to grand gestures.’
Republicans also have been open about their criticism of Harris refusing to visit the border even after being named ‘border czar’ by Biden in March.
They claim her avoiding the region is proof she is not committed to solving the problem.
Harris said she ‘believes’ any migrants who attempt to enter the U.S. through non-legal channels will be turned away if they arrive at the border.
‘I want to emphasize that the goal of our work is to help Guatemalans find hope at home,’ Harris said after her bilateral meeting with Giammattei.
‘At the same time, 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,’ she said, and repeated for emphasis: ‘Do not come.’
She continued: ‘The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border.
‘There are legal methods by which migration can and should occur, but we, as one of our priorities, will discourage illegal migrations. And I believe if you come to our border, you will be turned back.’
Harris’ chief spokesperson Symone Sanders clarified to reporters that the administration still wants immigrants to come to the U.S. by seeking the legal ways to do so from their home countries.
‘The President and Vice President have been clear in dissuading people from making the dangerous and treacherous journey to the U.S./Mexico border,’ Sanders said.
‘We encourage those who do want to come to the U.S. to do so legally and seek legal immigration options in their home countries,’ she continued.
‘The Vice President is committed to addressing the root causes of migration, which also addresses why migrants are coming to our border.’
Harris’ first international trip was met with protesters demanding she ‘mind your own business’
‘Kamala go home’ one sign read outside the Guatemalan Air Force facility
Harris affirmed during her bilateral press conference Monday that she told Giammattei the U.S. will be donating 500,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine to Guatemala.
Harris was greeted with protesters when she arrived for her first international trip as vice president in Guatemala City, which is 1,308 miles from where families are streaming across the U.S.-Mexico border.
‘Kamala go home,’ one white flag with black painted letters read, while another demanded she ‘mind her own business’.
As the vice president rode in her motorcade from her hotel to Palacio Nacional de la Cultura, reporters spotted a group of pro-Trump demonstrators with signs reading: ‘Kamala, Trump won.’
During the press conference, Giammattei vowed Guatemala would set up ‘returnee centers’ where they would accept their citizens who the U.S. sent back after crossing the border illegally.
Harris began her meeting with Giammattei with quick remarks where she said: ‘I very much have been looking forward to this trip, we have had many conversations, but it is good to see you in person.’
The two have spoken on the phone previously.
‘I am very proud that this is my first foreign trip as vice president,’ Harris continued.
‘It is a reflection of the priority that President Biden placed on this region.’
As Harris commenced her two-day trip south of the border, migrant families continue to stream over into the U.S. either by foot or on inflatable rafts.
Ahead of the meeting, Giammattei made a statement in English.
‘Thank you very much for your visit,’ he said to Harris.
‘For us, it’s very important to have you here because it means that Guatemala and the United States can work as partners with common goals.’
He detailed some of the main goals as addressing narcotics trafficking, immigration, corruption in the region and building up prosperity walls within departments near the border with Mexico.
In a press conference following the meeting, Giammattei said – in Spanish this time – that the two nations would work toward more ‘orderly migration’ that would ‘allow people to migrate regularly to the United States.’
‘We also spoke about the need to support the United States with a returnee center that will be located in the western part of the country,’ he continued, adding they are wording on a ‘strong family reunification program.’
These efforts, he ensured, would ‘help to ensure that the flow of persons in the southern border of the United States be controlled.’
‘This is disappointing’: AOC slams Kamala for telling migrants not to come and blames the US for influx after ‘setting Latin America on fire’
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has described Kamala Harris’ remarks on immigration as ‘disappointing’, after the vice president used a speech in Guatemala to declare to migrants: ‘Do not come’.
Ocasio-Cortez accused the United States of having ‘set the house on fire’ when it comes to Latin America – but being unwilling to allow people to escape. She didn’t explain why she made her explosive claim.
She then argued that the U.S. needed to emphasize the root causes of migration, rather than punishing those who seek to enter the country.
She reacted to a clip of Harris’ press conference by stating: ‘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.’
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, pictured on June 5, criticized Vice President Kamala Harris’ remarks in Guatemala. On Monday Harris told would-be migrants from the country that her message was: ‘Do not come’
The New York congresswoman added: ‘It would be helpful if the US would finally acknowledge its contributions to destabilization and regime change in the region.
‘Doing so can help us change US foreign policy, trade policy, climate policy, & carceral border policy to address causes of mass displacement & migration.’
She was responding to Harris’ remarks at her press conference on Monday besides Alejandro Giammattei, Guatemala’s president.