Kamala Harris: Guatemalan corruption, injustice are barriers to solving U.S.’s border problem

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Vice President Kamala Harris met on Wednesday with former Guatemalan judges and prosecutors who fled political reprisals in their country, telling them that rooting out corruption and injustice in Central America are keys to limiting migration to the U.S.

Ms. Harris, who will make her first foreign trip as vice president to Guatemala and Mexico on June 7-8, said she wanted to hear the stories of the four former officials, all women, before she visits their country.

“Injustice is a root cause of migration and in particular it is causing the people of the region to leave their homes involuntarily, meaning they don’t want to leave but they are fleeing,” Ms. Harris said. “Families are living in fear of traffickers and gangs. Corruption is preventing people from getting basic services that they should be entitled to receive such as educating their children, getting a business started or participating in a fair judicial trial.”

Among the recent surge of illegal immigration, some migrants have said they came to the U.S. after President Biden’s election in the belief that his administration would be more lenient with illegal border crossings than was the Trump administration.

Reporters were escorted out of the vice president’s ceremonial office at the White House before her guests began to discuss their experiences. One of them, former Guatemala Attorney General Thelma Aldana, tweeted earlier on Wednesday, “What is happening in Guatemala hurts me. The historical setback that [the country] is experiencing damages the weak democracy. There will be more poverty, hunger and migration.”

She also posted, “State looters enjoy impunity. In Guatemala, human rights defenders and those who fight against corruption are criminalized!!”

Another guest, Gloria Porras, a former judge on Guatemala’s constitutional court, was denied a third five-year term in April by the Guatemalan Congress. She was known as a crusading judge against the wealthy, and faced a smear campaign and other alleged harassment.

Ms. Harris said restoring judicial independence and cracking down on corruption in Guatemala will give its people more reasons to stay in their country.

“If we give people a sense of hope that if they stay, help is on the way … they will do what they want to do, which is remain with their families, remain with their kin,” the vice president said. “And part of giving people hope is having a very specific commitment to rooting out corruption in the region.”

Ms. Harris said it will be hard for the U.S. and its partners to encourage business investment in the region unless Guatemala and other Central American nations address corruption.

“Corruption is also a deterrent to financial and economic investment in the region — a significant deterrent,” she said. “If we are prevented from a course of action that is about spurring economic activity because of the legitimate concern of corruption, that is another reason that demands our attention to what we must move to reduce corruption, if not eliminate it in the region.”

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