By Nandita Bose
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris met Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday as part of her first trip abroad since taking office as she tries to lower migration from Central America which has spiked in recent months.
Harris and Lopez Obrador witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding on development agencies working in Central America.
The accord is aimed at reducing the number of migrants from Central America’s Northern Triangle countries – Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – to the United States through Mexico.
Since President Joe Biden took office in January, the number of migrants taken into custody per month at the U.S.-Mexico border has risen to the highest levels in 20 years. Many are from Central America.
Harris has been tasked by Biden to address the migrant flow.
On a visit to Guatemala on Monday, she told potential migrants “Do not come,” to the United States.
She visits Mexico after midterm elections on Sunday eroded Lopez Obrador’s power base in Congress,
Lopez Obrador’s leftist National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party held the lower house of Congress but was weakened. The party dominated state votes.
A Mexican government official said the timing of Harris’ visit was not ideal. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the United States had pushed for the visit.
When asked if the election results would change the U.S. strategy in Mexico, Ricardo Zuniga, the Biden administration’s special envoy to the Northern Triangle countries, said the relationship does not depend on who is in power or domestic politics. “It really doesn’t impact our plans.”
Harris spokeswoman and senior adviser Symone Sanders said late on Monday the vice president’s meeting with Lopez Obrador will follow up on a virtual meeting they had in May.
Sanders said Harris on Tuesday will look to build on topics discussed during the May meeting such as the two countries jointly agreeing to secure their borders and bolster human rights protections and spurring economic development in the Northern Triangle countries and in southern Mexico.
They will also discuss migration specifically to the U.S.-Mexico border by stepping up enforcement, Sanders said.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, however, said ahead of the meeting on Tuesday that migration enforcement would not be part of the discussion.
Temporary work visas would be on the agenda, Ebrard said, as well as expanding options in Central America.
“We are not going to talk about operations or other things,” Ebrard said.
“What is going to be the focus of attention today is how we can promote development in the short term in these three countries,” he added, referring to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The Biden administration has been overwhelmed by the number of migrant children and families arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, mostly from Central America and has looked to Mexico for help in slowing transit across its territory.
On Monday, Harris met with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei and said the two leaders had “robust” talks on fighting corruption to deter migration from Central America.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Mexico City, additional reporting by Dave Graham, writing by Cassandra GarrisonEditing by Nick Zieminski and Alistair Bell)