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Nation & World

Harris Talked Migration In Meeting With Mexico's President López Obrador

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Kamala Harris is wrapping up her first international trip as vice president. She was in Guatemala City yesterday. Today she met with Mexico's president in Mexico City. The conversation in both capitals - the ongoing migration crisis at the U.S. southern border. Harris told reporters after her meeting today that you can't get to the root causes of the problem without going to the heads of state.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: To eyeball each other and to say, look; let's speak honestly. Let's speak candidly about the interconnection, the interdependency and also the responsibilities that each of us have to address these issues.

KELLY: NPR's Carrie Kahn is in Mexico City. She joins me now.

Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So was the vice president's message today in Mexico City the same as she was trying to convey yesterday in Guatemala?

KAHN: It was a little different, mostly because Mexico is not seen as the problem when it comes to why people are migrating. In fact, it's a problem for Mexico, too, with the high number of Central Americans staying here lately. And the Biden administration sees Mexico as a partner in solving the current crisis. Mexico's president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has been saying for years that we all have to help Central America so Central Americans stay there, help them with economic and agricultural help. And then the Biden administration's big goal there is to crack down on corruption, which they see as strangling the economy, businesses and the rule of law. And that's why people want to leave.

KELLY: So what was the readout on today's meeting? Do we know what Vice President Harris and President Lopez Obrador actually discussed?

KAHN: Not exactly because we weren't allowed in those meetings. But we do know that they met together with each of their delegations for more than an hour. And privately, the two met before and after for a good amount of time. Unlike in Guatemala, the two leaders are not holding a joint press conference today.

They did send out a long list of what the two countries have agreed upon. And I think it's interesting. What really stuck out to me was that both countries have recommitted somewhat to start cooperating on security issues, even sharing information about cross-border criminal gangs, mostly with regard to human trafficking groups and smugglers. But this is significant because Mexico greatly restricted security cooperation with the U.S. over the last year - really, after the - since the arrest. The U.S. arrested Mexico's former defense minister and charged him with drug trafficking. Mexico was furious and demanded his return. Once the U.S. did that, Lopez Obrador pretty much cut off security exchanges. So this to me is a big change if it actually paves the way for better security cooperation.

KELLY: What about the big ask from the U.S.? The United States wants Mexico to prevent migrants from even getting to the U.S. border and to do so by beefing up security at Mexico's southern border with Guatemala. Do we know if that was discussed today?

KAHN: They said they were going to work together on economic investment, agricultural system and programs to help young people all in northern Central America. They didn't mention border enforcement. Harris' spokeswoman did say that was on the agenda. But then the foreign minister here reportedly said that enhancing border enforcement was not to be discussed. But, you know, in reality, that is exactly what Mexico has been doing. Lopez Obrador has his militarized National Guard troops at the southern border and recently even sent more. So that is the de facto policy here.

And I just want to point out quickly that the number of Mexicans trying to enter the U.S. illegally is on the rise, too. And it's not just Mexicans from southern Mexico, as the president here points out. Many are leaving from different points of the country, some because of the bad economy, exacerbated by the pandemic, of course. But many are also fleeing Mexico's relentless violence linked to drug traffickers and criminal gangs. And I think that needs to be discussed, too. And we'll find out if that was.

KELLY: Sounds like they had a lot to talk about.

NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City, thank you.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.