MEXICO CITY — Vice President Kamala Harris will cap on Tuesday her first foreign trip, meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to discuss economic cooperation, as well as joint efforts to combat human trafficking and manage migration to their shared border.
The two leaders signed an agreement in the national palace that reiterates a commitment to deter migration north by addressing the root causes of poverty, persecution and corruption in Central America.
“We are very pleased to have her here and we will touch on that subject but always addressing the fundamental root causes,” Mr. López Obrador said when asked by a reporter if he would work with the United States on border security.
The meeting will conclude a high-stakes visit for Ms. Harris to Mexico and Guatemala, where she was on Monday.
She has been tapped by President Biden to be the administration’s emissary for one of its more complex and politically volatile issues: improving conditions in Central America and deterring migration to the U.S.-Mexico border.
For weeks, Ms. Harris has faced criticism from Republicans for not visiting the United States’ southwest border, where an increasing number of lone migrant children and teenagers are arriving, and she has also tried to manage the expectations of Democrats for Mr. Biden to fulfill his campaign promise of taking a compassionate approach to asylum-seekers at the border.
The trip has so far shown that her approach in the short-term will be one that prioritizes a moderate approach to migration and projecting a perception that the border is under control, even if it means turning away the very asylum-seekers she has said the United States is committed to helping in the long term.
On Monday, Ms. Harris sparked criticism from immigration advocates and Democrats when she delivered a blunt message to potential migrants.
“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. Do not come,” Ms. Harris said in Guatemala City, standing feet away from the Guatemalan president, Alejandro Giammattei.
“This is disappointing to see,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, said on Twitter. “First, seeking asylum at any US border is a 100% legal method of arrival.”
In Guatemala on Monday, Ms. Harris committed to supporting the country’s anti-corruption prosecutors and also pledged to use U.S. aid to create more jobs and address security concerns in Central America. She also touted a resource center where migrants can learn about refugee and asylum programs that do not require a journey to the border.
But while meeting with Mr. López Obrador, Ms. Harris will likely discuss a restrictionist policy that the administration has said is necessary to prevent overcrowding in detention facilities.
The Biden administration has continued to embrace an emergency rule implemented by President Donald J. Trump that empowered border agents to rapidly turn away migrants without providing them a chance to apply for asylum. Implemented after the coronavirus outbreak, the order justifies the expulsions as a health measure intended to stop the virus from spreading.
Under U.S. immigration law, migrants are entitled to ask for protection once they step on American soil.
While Mr. Biden has said only unaccompanied minors are exempted from the border policy, the administration has at times this year struggled to quickly return migrant families who cross the Texas border back into the hands of Mexican authorities, because of a change in Mexican law and limited shelter capacity south of the border. The United States has been in talks with Mexico this year to find a remedy to the situation.
The continued use of the rule, known as Title 42, has prompted criticism from immigration lawyers, former officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the administration’s own medical consultants.
The Biden administration has also asked Mexico to increase the number of security personnel at the Mexico-Guatemala border in an effort to stop migrants before they can reach the United States. The United States has also pledged to send hundreds of thousands of vaccines to Mexico and Central America.