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Kamala's First Foreign Trip to Guatemala and Mexico About Managing 'Expectations'

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

At long last, Vice President Kamala Harris will be taking steps to address the "root causes" of the migration surge at the southern border. The vice president will arrive in Guatemala on Sunday night, and in Mexico on Monday, but reports are saying that the trips are about "expectations."


Reporting for Politico, Eugene Daniels and Sabrina Rodriguez write "Modest goals for Kamala Harris in her first foreign trip." As the piece begins:

The Biden administration is trying to manage expectations for Kamala Harris’ first international trip as vice president.

The goal for her two-day visit to Guatemala and Mexico isn’t to roll out a massive plan to solve the problems driving thousands to flee the region, according to administration officials, people close to the White House and experts, but simply to show that the U.S. cares and isn’t just looking for quick fixes.

A piece by Nick Miroff, Cleve R. Wootson Jr., and Kevin Sieff for The Washington Post reads "Harris heads to Guatemala, Mexico to address migration and manage expectations for quick results." From the piece:

In advance of the trip, White House officials have sought to lower expectations that Harris’s efforts will produce short-term results at the U.S. southern border. Since President Biden took office, the number of migrants taken into custody by U.S. agents per month has rocketed to the highest levels in 20 years, with record numbers of teenagers and children crossing without parents.

And, as Adam Shaw with Fox News writes:

How much will be achieved by Harris’ trip is unclear, although there have been signs that the White House has been trying to tamp down expectations for what can be achieved in the trip alone.

Officials have emphasized that the U.S. cannot solve this issue by itself, and it needs collaboration with governments and other organizations -- including the United Nations. Harris herself has emphasized that she does not believe the root causes approach will lead to immediate results.

A theme of such reports from Politico and The Washington Post, as well as from USA Today and The Hill, evidently looks to be a reminder about what Harris' role is and is not, hence the emphasis on "expectations."

Further, a lot of reporting jumps through hoops to note that criticisms come from Republicans. From Politico:

The trip is also a chance for the administration to reset what her role on immigration policy actually is. Harris was tasked with leading diplomatic efforts in the Northern Triangle and Mexico nearly three months ago, but aides admit in private that the rollout could have been “smoother.” The initial announcement that Harris would oversee efforts to address the root causes of migration — which came amid a spike in the number of migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border — prompted Republicans to label her the “border czar” and blame her for continued influx of migrants there.

But aides say they aren’t focused on correcting the record for Republicans, because the trip likely won’t change the GOP’s tactics. “They're deliberately not getting it. It's not hard to understand but they want to try to tie her up in the border czar position for their own purposes,” a senior administration official said.

Beyond the GOP’s framing of her job, Harris faces major issues in working with Central America and Mexico on the corruption, poverty, violence and other destabilizing conditions driving thousands of people to migrate north to the United States. In addition to having some of the highest homicide rates in the world, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have been rocked in recent years by political turmoil, natural disasters and Covid-19 and the economic downturn it’s caused. The pandemic appears to have caused a dramatic drop in migration from the region in 2020, but migrant crossings have surged upward again in 2021. U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel encountered more foreign nationals from the Northern Triangle through the first half of fiscal year 2021 than they did in all of fiscal year 2020, according to the Congressional Research Service.


There is no indication that the vice president is visiting the border, however, as many have called on her to do. 

Last week, CNN published "Vice President Harris' team tries to distance her from fraught situation at the border," by Priscilla Alvarez and Natasha Bertrand.

Further, it's not merely Republicans issuing such a call. As Noah Bierman for The Los Angeles Times reported last month, "Republicans aren’t alone in saying Kamala Harris should visit the southern border." From his piece:

But politicking aside, some Democrats, nonpartisan policy experts and pro-immigrant advocacy groups also say Harris should visit the border, as a high-level sign of the administration’s commitment to fixing the battered immigration system and so that Harris can witness the scope of the problem she has been asked to help fix.

“She’s playing it, in my opinion, very safe by not dealing with the border,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat whose district extends 194 miles along the U.S.-Mexico line.

This trip looks to be the first decisive action Vice President Harris has taken to address the issue since President Joe Biden tasked her with it on March 24, calling her "the most qualified person to do it." However, even The Washington Post piece noted above acknowledged Harris has "relatively little foreign policy experience."

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