“Do Not Come”: What Did VP Harris’ Trip to Guatemala Accomplish?

Peace Advocate July 2021

by Sunny Robinson

In June 2021 on a trip to Guatemala, Vice President Kamala Harris commanded Guatemalans, other Central Americas, and Mexicans: “Do not come.” In doing so, she unfortunately demonstrated how little the Biden-Harris administration seems to understand about why thousands are fleeing Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, as well as the rest of Latin America and the world. 

Harris’s statement reveals a failure to understand or acknowledge that people do not leave their homes, subjecting themselves to the perilous conditions of informal transports, through scorching desert and summer heat, coping with drug smugglers, kidnappers, human traffickers, and further predatory violence, with little money or proper materials, because they want to. They take those risks, including bringing their children, because they are fleeing an enormous variety of hardship– gang, domestic, police, and military violence, poverty, political instability, and climate disasters. Desperate people try to come or send their children because they see no other option. Their lives have been threatened; their crops have failed; their lands have been stolen or destroyed. As one migrant said a few years ago, “We are here because you (the U.S.)  were there” (CUSLAR Newsletter), referencing decades of continuing US interference in Central American politics and economics. 

This is what much of rural Guatemala looks like outside of the drought areas. What will Microsoft and Mastercard do for this village?

While economic and food assistance is necessary, correctly positioning that support depends on thoughtful assessments of real needs with trusted organizations and rural communities over a period of time, not a couple of hours of meeting with a few NGOs, some of whose perspectives may be valid, but not the whole picture. Further, though fostering the advancement and profits  of U.S. corporations such as Microsoft, Mastercard, Chobani, Nespresso, Duolingo, some of the very specific corporations Harris advocated, may benefit some, they will not eradicate the root causes of migration no matter how much they might improve the economic status of some. Additional security is surely needed but cannot be achieved via the current, all too often corrupt police and military which foster violence rather than prevent it. Years of money supplying “security” through the war on drugs has not reduced the drug trafficking and has instead, in too many cases, put more guns in the hands of violent police, military and ultimately cartels themselves. Additionally, U.S. Homeland Security has very recently sent at least 16 specialists to Guatemala to “train” their border security staff, thus militarizing Guatemala’s borders with Mexico and Honduras. (See Todd Miller’s Empire of Borders for further discussion of this border “security” training.) 

The third area of “assistance” was to be in helping stem corruption. In Guatemala a special U.N. commission and the courts had been making some progress in this realm–that is, until both Trump and the current Guatemalan President ended the program. If restored, with the same Guatemalan President in office, can it again be successful? That is a completely open ended question to which we likely know the negative answer given the history of U.S. economic endeavors in Central America from United Fruit to Gold Corp.

While the comments and promises of the trip fail to address root causes of forced migration in any meaningful way, so too do the current immigration practices employed here in the U.S. Title 42, which entails turning adults away at the border—more than 400,000, 58,000 of whom were families—based on assumed health risks, remains in place. The policy is a travesty for people trying to exercise their internationally recognized right to file a claim for asylum when reaching the U.S. Lifting the rule remains a chief demand of immigration advocacy groups throughout the country, as does the cry for citizenship for all essential workers. While some of the bills reflecting these steps have passed the House, all have been blocked by Republicans and thus stalled in the Senate. Large numbers of unaccompanied minors — more than 5,000 in May at Fort Bliss, Tex., and 1,600 at the Coliseum in San Antonio — are still being detained and housed in sub-standard facilities, with untrained and unskilled staff who have been told to simply monitor the children but not interact with them while facing untenable delays in being released to their known relatives (NBC).

Having given the Biden Administration some leeway and a grace period in which to get organized to address migrants in a fair and humane way, it is now time to demand the lifting of Rule 42, movement on citizenship for all essential workers, and an end to all detention. Take the detention budget and convert it into human and legal services for those already in the country and those newly arriving at the border. Write your Representative and Senators and urge them to find a way to get these things done. We have it easier here in Massachusetts as Senators Warren and Markey are already sponsors of progressive, broad immigration improvements and Representatives Clark, Trahan, McGovern, Auchincloss, Moulton, and Keating are co-sponsors of the original U.S. Citizenship Act. Nonetheless, Massachusetts advocates should keep up the appreciations and keep pushing their elected officials to vigorously work to advance these measures. 

Additionally, once you have written your letter, do the harder work by sending a copy to your family and friends in other states, especially those with Republican Representatives and Senators and urge them to write their own legislators urging similar actions.

In early July, 2021 two congressional representatives, Jesus Garcia (D-Ill.) and Joachim Castro (D-Tex.) took an even bolder stand, which I urge all to call on our representatives and senators to support — that they lend no support for the infrastructure bill unless it includes passage of citizenship access for DACA — Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, TPS — Temporary Protected Status, Farmworkers via the Farmworkers Modernization Act, and all essential workers. Do it today!  This step becomes even more urgent gIven the Texas court decision of July 16, 2021 potentially ending DACA and at least prohibiting all new enrollments, making the point that until immigration justice is encoded in law, immigrants will not be secure.

Here in Massachusetts there is also local work to be done. Write your local representatives and senators urging their co-sponsorship of the Work and Family Mobility Act — the so-called safe driving bill – H.R. 3702 and S. 2289 — as well as the Safe Communities Act – H.R. 1579 and S. 2418 — which would prohibit and protect local police and sheriff’s offices from doing ICE’s work, thus protecting immigrants from having their immigration status exposed if they become involved with the police, or from the fear of having their status asked when seeking health care. This latter anxiety and fear has prevented an untold number of people from seeking health care.

The WFMA was heard before the Joint Committee on Transportation in June 2021 and was powerfully and extraordinarily well received by the committee, where both the House and Senate chairs support the legislation. (https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=cosecha%20massachusetts) The Safe Communities Act is not yet scheduled for hearing, so follow it via the SCA website. (https://www.miracoalition.org/our-work/safe-communities/key-features-of-the-safe-communities-act/

Come join MAPA’s Latin America/Caribbean Working Group to work with us on these immigration issues as well as to try to end the decades of U.S. interference in the affairs of Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. We meet the second Wednesday of each month by zoom from 5-7 p.m. Immigration is an issue in which anti-interference, anti-war, anti-racism, and pro human rights and justice work come together! Anti-Immigration efforts are guaranteed to be a major organizing focus of the Republicans going forward.

By Sunny Robinson, an active member of the MAPA Latin America and Caribbean Working Group, who has been involved with human rights and justice efforts for decades, much of that focused on Central America and especially Guatemala.