(CNN) — When US President Joe Biden appointed Vice President Kamala Harris to address the reasons people migrate to the southern border of the United States, his attention turned to addressing the immigration crisis in Central America. But seven months later, it is migrants arriving from even the farthest reaches of South America that overwhelm the government, leaving the White House with a bigger problem that officials are still seeking to solve.
The recent surge of Haitians in Del Rio, Texas, underscored the immense challenge of addressing ever-changing migratory flows. As efforts were launched in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to establish Internet access and invest in farmers, thousands of migrants, mainly Haitians, arrived from South America, fleeing the deteriorating conditions that were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“They have a great strategy outlined for Central America, but the flows have changed. They go far beyond the Northern Triangle. Now, that complicates the narrative and the answer,” said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute.
Joe Biden’s administration is looking at how it can apply its plan to address the root causes of migration in the hemisphere, such as matching people to jobs where there are labor shortages in the region, a senior official with the region told CNN. administration.
The State Department also funded digital ads in Creole and Spanish aimed at Haitian migrants to inform them of US immigration and border policies, a spokesperson told CNN.
The recent crises at the border have put the administration in a politically dangerous position. President Joe Biden faces a 49% disapproval rating and Americans are divided over his administration’s attention to stemming the flow of migrants. Harris, meanwhile, has faced continued criticism for not being assertive enough on the US-Mexico border.
The government also tries to balance maintaining regional partners and doubling down on law enforcement at the US-Mexico border to discourage irregular migration. It is a complicated balance that, at times, has created tension.
That became the focus over the summer when the Department of Homeland Security, in collaboration with Mexico, sent Guatemalans found on the U.S.-Mexico border into the interior of Mexico, leaving them in a desolate area without resources. That decision, aimed at stopping those who cross repeatedly, did not sit well with Guatemala, a key US partner in trying to address the root causes of migration in Central America.
“It does not correlate with this rhetorical and more humane approach to migration when they send deportees to a very remote area in the middle of the jungle where there is no infrastructure to receive them,” a senior Guatemalan official told CNN.
Guatemaña officials discussed it with Harris’ office and others within the government in August, the official said. While it is unclear whether the vice president intervened, the Department of Homeland Security now sends flights directly to Guatemala City.
Infusing hope at home
In March, during an influx of unaccompanied migrant children, Biden tasked Harris with overseeing diplomatic efforts with the Northern Triangle. Most of the minors detained on the southern US border are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, a region where major hurricanes and the coronavirus pandemic took a devastating toll.
In May, the White House announced a agreement, dubbed the “Call to Action,” which included commitments from major companies such as Microsoft, Mastercard, Chobani, Duolingo and Nespresso to invest in the region in hopes of generating economic opportunities. Subsequently, a 20 page strategy on root causes that outlined the government’s approach to improving conditions and creating opportunities in the region.
The administration has gradually made progress on these fronts. In the last 90 days, internet access was installed in an indigenous community of more than 4,000 people in Honduras, according to Jonathan Fantini Porter, co-founder and executive director of the Alliance for Central America. Fantini Porter also recently sampled the first cup of Honduran-sourced Nespresso coffee as the company moves there.
The idea, Fantini Porter explained, is to develop a system where the diverse needs of a single individual or family are met, so that they are more inclined to stay at home rather than migrate. If you’re dealing with a farmer, for example, that might include providing resources and tools to ensure you thrive from having buyers and access to banking.
Other private investments include Microsoft’s plan to expand Internet access to up to 3 million people in the region by July 2022, as well as developing community centers to help teach Internet use and digital skills to women and youth. And Mastercard hopes to help 5 million people in the region gain access to banking services and incorporate 1 million micro and small businesses into a digital banking system.
The Alliance for Central America also intends to increase and stabilize the incomes of 250,000 farmers and support 1.5 million families, Fantini Porter said.
Experts say those actions are important for improving conditions on the ground over time, arguing that addressing migration across the hemisphere would require additional partnerships across the region, a point also recognized by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. .
“We face a challenge that is unique in many ways with tremendous pressure from illegal migratory flows that come in different ways, in different parts of the hemisphere,” Blinken said during a news conference in Mexico this month. “We have to have a stronger regional focus for this challenge.”
Authorities in South America have monitored the increased movement of migrants in the region for months. Many fleeing migrants held informal jobs before the pandemic and were especially vulnerable to slipping into extreme poverty as economies tightened last year.
Although the administration expelled more than 7,000 Haitians to their country, the migratory flow through Panama, one of the transit countries as people move north, has not slowed down, according to the office of the Chancellor of Panama.
Harris and his team have coordinated with the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security actions with other regional partners, such as Panama, senior administration officials told CNN.
“The talks with Panama are broader and fall into what we see as the category of immigration management,” said one of the senior government officials. “While we are very coordinated, we are not having those conversations, but others in the White House are.”
However, Harris’s focus remains on the Northern Triangle.
Achieving sustainability will require some level of government involvement, argued Matt Rooney, managing director of the Bush-SMU Institute’s Economic Growth Initiative and a member of the Alliance for Central America working group. And that can be complicated by the systemic problems affecting Central American governments.
In El Salvador, there is concern about limiting checks and balances in the government, while in Honduras, where the president has been implicated in a drug trafficking case, there is greater concern about corruption within the government. And in Guatemala, there are also concerns about government corruption.
“In that case, you have to ask yourself: Why aren’t there more? And why are there companies in the United States that operate in industries that, where you could do business in Central America, why don’t they do business in Central America?” Said Rooney. . “The answer to that question is that there are dysfunctions in the investment environment.”
Promoting a “conducive environment for business” through the implementation of reforms is included in the government’s root causes strategy. Senior administration officials acknowledged that tackling corruption and achieving change within governments is a challenge, but reiterated that for countries to prosper, infrastructure must be established to facilitate economic growth.
“There will be ups and downs along the way,” a senior government official told CNN. “Really, the only long-term solution to the regional migration patterns that we see in those three countries in particular is to create the conditions for people to have hope at home.”