June 7 (UPI) -- Central Americans must believe that "help is on the way" if illegal migration to the United States is to be curbed, Vice President Kamala Harris said Monday in Guatemala during her first official foreign visit.
At a meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei in Guatemala City, Harris said people in the region must be provided "a sense of hope that help is on the way and to then follow through, understanding that hope does not exist by itself" as a way to tackle the root causes of immigration.
"It must be coupled with relationships of trust," she said. "It must be coupled with tangible outcomes, in terms of what we do as leaders to convince people that there is a reason to be hopeful about their future and the future of their children."
Guatemala, she said, "is a country with incredible resources, historically and currently. But there is work that we can do together to grow the capacity of those resources and to reach the people."
President Joe Biden in March appointed Harris to lead the administration's efforts to stem immigration at the southern U.S. border, tasking her to meet with the leaders of Mexico and the Northern Triangle of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, amid an influx of unaccompanied minors at U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities.
Biden has launched an effort to develop a "comprehensive regional framework" to address the "root causes" of the migrant influx, tapping National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Attorney General Merrick Garland and homeland security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, as well as Harris.
The plan, the White House says, will focus on "combating corruption, strengthening democratic governance and advancing the rule of law" in the Northern Triangle, promoting human rights, addressing economic insecurity and inequality and other concerns.
As Harris was meeting with Giammattei Monday, Garland announced a series of steps in Washington meant to "address the threats posed by both corruption and by transnational human smuggling and trafficking networks."
A new, cross-departmental task force has been formed "to enhance U.S. enforcement efforts against "the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling and trafficking groups operating in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries," Garland said in an issued statement.
"Our focus will remain on disrupting and dismantling smuggling and trafficking networks that abuse, exploit, or endanger migrants, pose national security threats, and are involved in organized crime," he said. "Together, we will combat these threats where they originate and operate."