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Biden administration unveils strategy to slow migration from Central America

Vice President Kamala Harris has big goals for improving conditions in Central America to help slow migration from the region toward the United States.

Driving the news: Senior administration officials unveiled five sweeping goals during a call on Wednesday: Bettering economic prospects; rooting out corruption; promoting human rights, labor rights, and a free press; preventing gang violence; as well as combating sexual, gender-based and domestic violence.

The long-term goals come as numbers at the U.S.-Mexico border continue to climb.

  • Border agents in South Texas encountered 20,000 migrants in one week, and tens of thousands of people have been released into the U.S. without a court date.
  • "The root causes piece that the vice president is working on, in some respects, is the long pole in the tent — it certainly is going to be the longest-term effort," one official said on the call.

The big picture: Problems in home countries also continue to arise. Just last week, the top anti-corruption prosecutor in Guatemala was fired. Guatemala is viewed as a key partner for the administration on the migration issue.

  • In response, the Biden administration has "decided to suspend assistance to the Office of the Prosecutor General," another official said.
  • Meanwhile, issues outside of Central America — such as unrest in Cuba and the assassination of the Haitian president — also could fuel more migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Between the lines: President Biden has tasked the vice president with leading the administration's efforts in Central America.

  • While Harris faced criticism after a trip to Guatemala and Mexico earlier this year, officials on the call touted her successes.
  • They include helping the U.S. disburse $250 million of $300 million for humanitarian relief in Central America; reaching out to nations including Japan, South Korea and Israel to increase their aid; and convincing private corporations to invest in the region.

What to watch: The administration is also working to expand legal pathways for migration to the U.S., and strengthening asylum in countries in the region.

  • "We're not seeking to end migration," one official said during the call. "We're seeking to change the ways in which people migrate, provide an alternative to the criminal smuggling and trafficking rings, and to give people access to opportunity and protection through legal channels, legal pathways."

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