Two Democratic leaders of the California Latino Legislative Caucus on Wednesday criticized Vice President Kamala Harris’ recent remarks discouraging Guatemalans from traveling to the U.S-Mexico border during her first foreign visit to Guatemala this week.
“Seeking asylum in the United States is not only legal but a matter of life and death for many,” said state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblyman Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, in a statement. “We should not discourage asylum seekers from seeking a better life. They are doing what they need to do to survive.”
“As such, we urge the Biden-Harris administration and Congress to follow the moral and legal imperative to create a process to allow all asylum seekers to come to this country as a part of a larger, long-overdue comprehensive reform of our immigration system.”
Harris made the remarks to Guatemalans during a Monday news conference with Guatemala President Alejandro Giammattei.
“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. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border,” she said. “If you come to our border, you will be turned back.”
Harris’ comments were also sharply rebuked this week by immigrant advocates, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, who have said U.S. officials have historically contributed to the destabilization of Latin American countries.
“This is disappointing to see,” according to a tweet by Ocasio-Cortez. “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 March, President Joe Biden said Harris would “lead our efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle and the countries that help — are going to need help in stemming the movement of so many folks, stemming the migration to our southern border.”
He called Harris, a U.S. senator from California for four years before becoming vice president, as “the most qualified person to do it.”.
Latino Caucus leaders Durazo and Rivas commended Harris “for seeking to address the root causes of why so many men, women, and children are fleeing to our border.”
More than 178,000 people trying to get across the U.S.-Mexico border in April, the biggest one month number in 20 years, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.
The issue has prompted California leaders to call for more spending at the Mexico border to help migrant children and families. In March, California said they planned to spend $28 million to aid asylum seekers entering the country through the U.S.-Mexico border at the San Ysidro Port of Entry to await their court dates.
Immigration experts have cited warmer weather to travel, recent natural disasters and social turmoil in Central America as reasons why more asylum seekers and unaccompanied migrant children are arriving to the border.
Harris has also drawn criticism from Republicans during her trip to Mexico and Guatemala.
On Wednesday, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, the Senate’s third-ranking Republican, went to the Senate floor to criticize Harris.
“In reality she knows if she goes to the border between the United States and Mexico, she knows that the news cameras will go with her,” he said. “She knows that the media would broadcast the crisis that they see at the border to the whole world. She knows that then more and more Americans will see firsthand the truth for themselves.”
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigration group, noted the issue of Central American migration “has been misunderstood for decades.”
He listed four “flawed assumptions,” that migration is bad, it starts at the U.S.-Mexico border, migration from Central America is largely the result of U.S. immigration policy and “cruel deterrence is the only way to deal with it.”
He added, “none of these assumptions are true. Forced migration from Central America is caused by violence, corruption and poverty. Cruel deterrence at the southern border and in the interior doesn’t stop migration, just drives it further underground.”
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