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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Harris announces funding to address root causes of migration crisis

Migrants cross the Rio Grande from Mexico at El Paso, Texas, on Dec. 20, 2022. Crossings at the southern border remain at record highs, posing logistical and humanitarian challenges for President Joe Biden.

By Michael D. Shear

Vice President Kamala Harris earlier this week announced almost $1 billion in new pledges by private companies to support communities in Central America, part of the Biden administration’s effort to keep migrants from fleeing toward the U.S. border.

Ten companies, including Nestle, Target and Columbia Sportswear, said they would collectively spend $950 million on projects in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to support farmers, create textile jobs and invest in telecommunications and other industries.

The effort comes as crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border remain at record highs, posing logistical and humanitarian challenges to President Joe Biden and drawing intense criticism from Republicans on Capitol Hill.

House Republicans have begun to investigate the administration’s efforts at the border and said they might pursue the impeachment of Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary.

The vice president’s announcement came Monday afternoon as she met with a number of companies.

It added to the commitments from businesses through the Partnership for Central America, a nonprofit organization that was created in mid-2021 to facilitate Harris’ efforts to rally support for the region. The partnership had previously announced about $3 billion in future spending from a range of companies.

The idea, according to the vice president’s aides, is to address what she calls the root causes of migration: poverty, corruption, climate change and political instability that drives people to leave their homes in search of a better life.

Administration officials said the program had already generated results, though they acknowledged on a call with reporters that they could not specifically document those effects. Since mid-2021, officials said, migration from the three countries was down 71%.

“As part of this public-private partnership, approximately 47 companies and organizations are collaborating across financial services, textiles and apparel, agriculture, technology, telecommunications and nonprofit sectors to strengthen the region’s economic security,” the White House wrote in a fact sheet released Monday.

But even those participating in the effort say there are challenges to its success, especially in the short term.

Ajay Banga, the former executive chair of Mastercard and one of the business executives who worked with Harris on the effort to raise money for Central America, said it was unlikely to make a difference in the next few months or even years.

“If anyone speaking to you is declaring victory, they’re crazy,” Banga said in November. “There’s work. There’s real work there. That $3 billion is interesting, but it is not implemented yet.”

Banga and others said they had been impressed with Harris’ preparation and well-informed questions behind the scenes on the issue. But he said that the administration’s focus on oversight when investing the funds and deterring illegal migration was critical to its success.

“Then this can make a difference over five or 10 years,” Banga said.

There are other challenges, too. People who have worked with the administration for the past year and a half said that private investment was not enough as the United States competes with other countries, especially China, for investment in the region.

Executives with some of the companies who pledged to spend millions of dollars over the course of the next five years or so said they would also need regulatory changes and adjustments to tariffs if they wanted to be successful in the long run.

They will also need infrastructure to support their investments — roads, internet and power — and a total scale of spending by other similar companies. Both are things that China has embraced as it spreads investments through Asia, Africa and Latin America.

In response, the administration said Monday that Harris would announce a program aimed at increasing investment in infrastructure in the region.

The program aims to help companies gain access to funding from the U.S. International Development Finance Corp. and will create a Northern Central America Investment Facilitation Team intended to promote economic development.

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