US Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday announced a fresh $1.9 billion in private sector funding to boost jobs in hopes of reducing migration from Central America, at a Latin America summit in Los Angeles snubbed by the leaders of Mexico and other affected countries.
Harris has been given the unenviable task of tackling the root causes of rising migration into the United States, an issue seized upon by the rival Republican Party that has turned into a top priority for President Joe Biden at a week-long Summit of the Americas.
A day before Biden’s arrival, Harris unveiled $1.9 billion in commitments by businesses—in addition to $1.2 billion announced last year—for the impoverished and violence-ravaged so-called Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Harris, who met business leaders, female entrepreneurs, and civil society as part of the summit in her home state, said the efforts come from “our shared belief that most people don’t want to leave home” but also that “government cannot do it alone.”
“We know the American people will benefit from stable and prosperous neighbors. And when we provide economic opportunity for people in Central America, we address an important driver of migration,” she said.
Harris also announced the creation of the “Central American Service Corps” funded through US aid to mentor young people.
But none of the Northern Triangle leaders are attending the summit, nor is President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico, the crucial US partner on migration policy due to the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) shared border.
Lopez Obrador, a leftist populist, had insisted that Biden invite all governments including Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela—which the United States is excluding on the grounds that the summit is only for democracies.
Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, attending instead of Lopez Obrador, said his president would visit Washington next month and insisted that ties were not at risk.
The relationship between the neighbors “is positive and will remain so and we don’t expect any change in that,” he said.
But Lopez Obrador’s absence set a sour tone after the Mexican leader’s surprisingly close partnership with Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, who had threatened Mexico with sanctions unless it cracked down on Central American migrants.