She is traveling to Guatemala and Mexico this week, not to implement a one-off solution, but to treat it as a fact-finding mission. The approach – and the study she did before leaving – is classic Harris.
“We are still in intelligence gathering mode and we are close to finalizing it,” a White House official told CNN. “The visit will certainly play a role in shaping the Biden strategy.”
One official described a collective sense of achievement following the announcement, in part because Harris knows that promoting stability in the region will depend not only on government aid, but also on partnerships with multilateral organizations and the private sector – and also on getting involved on the strategy of governments in the region.
“It’s so easy to see the immigration problem as just a political one – which the US dictates and the people follow – but it sees it very differently,” said Jeff Tsai, who was one of Harris’ closest advisers when he was special Assistant Attorney General of California between 2013 and 2015. “She regards this as a two-way, two-way conversation because the solution is mutual.”
A practical approach to policy making
Faced with these challenges, Harris does what she always did in the face of a difficult task. She does her homework.
Trained as a prosecutor who delved into the fine details of her cases, Harris has obtained detailed explanations from advisors and experts in closed briefings and round table discussions to resolve the underlying issues in Mexico and the countries of the northern triangle of Guatemala, Honduras and El . to discover Salvador.
For those who have worked with her, these exploratory talks are indicative of the practical way the Vice President has long addressed complex political issues – from her time as the San Francisco District Attorney to the California Attorney General to the U.S. Senator.
Past aides describe Harris as meticulous and thorough when it comes to the subjects that matter most to her. Regarding criminal justice and immigration, several noted how she often insists on shifting the conversation beyond the symptoms of a problem in order to understand the root causes and address them at their source, with particular focus on the people who would be most affected by their own political choices.
“She’s very much someone who wants to understand things from a human-centered perspective,” said Sergio Gonzales, executive director of the Immigration Hub and former senior policy advisor to Harris when she was a senator.
Gonzales recalled that Harris would urge staff to consider the impact of the policy on beneficiaries of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which served undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children before Deportation protects. “How much is an application fee?” and “What is their average income,” the senator at the time would often ask.
Those who have watched her over the past few weeks say they seem to be taking the same approach in developing policies to curb migratory flows from Central America, an issue that has puzzled administrations for years.
Building on their previous experience with the region
One of the first trips she made as the California Attorney General was to Calexico to view a drug smuggling tunnel along the California-Mexico border. In 2014, she led a bipartisan delegation of attorneys general to Mexico and reached an agreement with leaders there to improve the exchange of information on the activities of transnational gangs and to take part in joint training on money laundering.
While trying to work with these partners, she was “obsessed” with making sure they understood, that she was talking “to them” and “not to them,” Tsai said.
He noted that the strategy for building trust with their counterparts in a region was central as they were trying to resolve a politically tense problem: “It doesn’t take that much imagination to see a scenario in which The wrong word is spoken, the wrong kind of concept is conveyed, and suddenly what used to be a weak trust problem has now crumbled into a problem with no trust, “said Tsai.” So this is a tightrope, similar to the tightrope that Vice President Harris is now told to walk.
Harris also believed that one of her greatest strengths as the attorney general was “convening” – the ability to summon people with different interests to a room to solve a problem when they had limited government resources. This is the approach she took in 2014 when she called the managing directors of some of the largest law firms in the country and asked them to send representatives to their office for a meeting so she and her team could match them with immigrant stakeholders to expand the legal Representing unaccompanied minors from Central America who poured across the border.
A former counselor recalled how she persuaded the attorneys assembled in her office to work a certain number of hours pro bono by guiding them through the harrowing experience these children came across the border alone – which they received firsthand visits experienced with interest groups – and then set out “the very stark differences in outcome for those children who are represented and those who do not”.
A demanding job
A key challenge in addressing these issues will be the leadership of the governments of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, all of which face different governance issues.
Harris has publicly called on El Salvador, highlighting the parliament that recently dismissed the attorney general and chief judges as undermining the country’s highest court, but she has not yet named the leaders of El Salvador and Honduras.
The Vice President will land in Guatemala on Sunday and has a day of events in the country the next day, including a face-to-face bilateral meeting with President Alejandro Giammattei. Harris will then fly to Mexicowhere she will take part in a bilateral meeting with the Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Harris is also expected to meet with community leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs in both countries to underscore the Biden government’s focus on working with international organizations in the region.
While she has been trying to catch herself up quickly on a variety of topics over the past few weeks, she admitted last week that she didn’t have as much time as she would like to brush up on her Spanish before the trip .
“One of my regrets is that I am not fluent in Spanish,” she said. “I’ll have my conversations in English so I don’t get embarrassed.”