This week Vice President Kamala Harris visited Guatemala and Mexico to discuss those countries’ key issues including immigration, corruption, and economic development.
While in Guatemala, Harris had a clear message to migrants who were thinking of coming to the United States.
“I want to be clear to folks in this region that are making that dangerous track to the United States-Mexico border. Do not come. Do not come,” Harris said.
“The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border. And I believe if you come to our border you will be turned back,” she said in a press conference on Monday with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei.
Immediately after her speech, immigration advocacy groups and officials called out Harris and the Biden administration for their Trump-like rhetoric and policies.
In an interview with the Signal, Chief Advocacy Officer at The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) Erika Andiola said she was disheartened after hearing Harris’s speech.
“It is time to use their power and to really follow their promises they have made to the immigrant community and not be afraid of the Republican party and their base,” Andiola said.
Andiola said it is the responsibility of the government to create better systems and safer conditions for families and children seeking asylum at the border.
“We are not advocating for more detention for children, we want safer places and an expedited way for these kids to be reunited with their families,” Andiola said.
Diana Martinez, co-founder of the Coalition to End Child Detention in El Paso (CECD) called Vice President Harris’ comments “tone deaf.”
“It’s not addressing the reasons why they’re coming… they’re coming because they’re running away from a corrupt government they’re running away from violence,” Martinez said. “I’m sure they would want to stay at home if they could, but staying there is not an option to save the lives of their children.”
Andiola, Martinez, and others highlighted how former administrations created foreign policy that led to the destruction in many Central American and Latinx countries including Guatemala.
“The violence that goes on there is rooted in US foreign policy so to say that to people in Guatemala is like saying put up with the abuse and violence,” Martinez said. “Asylum is a right, it is not illegal.”
New York House Representative. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also responded to Harris’ comments tweeting, “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.”
In May, Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott issued an order to remove licenses from childcare facilities who are housing unaccompanied migrant children.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services responded to Abbott’s order threatening to sue the governor, but then issued a statement telling facilities that are housing unaccompanied migrant children to “wind-down operations.”
As organizers, Andiola and Martinez are fighting to end child detention centers at the border altogether, but want better conditions for the children in the meantime.
Both said Abbott’s policies are not helping, but instead creating an environment of fear in Texas.
“He’s not doing this out of the kindness of his heart because he cares about migrant children,” Andiola said. “It’s important as a country that we move forward with reimagining and recreating the way we welcome children so that they are not detained for such a long period of time and in conditions that are not safe physically and mentally.”
In El Paso, Martinez said organizers and sponsors have no access to unaccompanied migrant children in Fort Bliss, an army base housing migrant children, and only learn about the conditions from leakers.
“Before 2019, I could get on base and all you needed was proper insurance and registration, and I was able to get on base regularly now you can only get on the base if someone you know signs you in,” Martinez said. “Many of the children what they ask for in Fort Bliss is for clean underwear and they go without clean underwear for 2 to 3 weeks.”
Martinez said they want transparency between the government and the community about how long the children are being held and what conditions they are living in.
“We should be able to tell these children that they are loved, not alone and they will see their families soon,” Martinez said. “ And to give them a place where they feel safe, that is temporary and for these to not be run by corporations. We should not profit off of pain.”
Andiola also said these unaccompanied migrant children are only wanting a better life and also highlighted that seeking asylum in the U.S. is not illegal.
“Children when they live in poverty they grow up feeling this responsibility that they have to help their families,” Andiola said. “At the end of the day they are children and to just say no and do everything the governor is doing to ensure we turn them away is just completely heartless and we are not going to stand for that.”
The White House/ Wikimedia Commons