“Do not come. Do not come.”
This was Vice President Kamala Harris’s message to Guatemalan migrants on Monday, during her first international trip since taking office. The quote does not improve with context: “I want to emphasize that the goal of our work is to help Guatemalans find hope at home,” Harris said at a press conference after meeting with the country’s president.
“At the same time, I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border,” she continued. “Do not come. Do not come. I believe if you come to our border, you will be turned back.”
Along with voting rights, immigration recently became one of Harris’s “issues” as vice president, leading some to speculate as to whether Biden is setting her up for failure. Conventional wisdom dictates that Harris must act as a spokesperson for the president’s immigration policy, which has earned him backlash when it came to the reopening of controversial detention centers and his administration’s initial cap on refugees—but that certainly doesn’t absolve her from a cruel statement like this one.
“This is disappointing to see,” Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote in a tweet Monday night, responding to Harris’s comments. “First, seeking asylum at any US border is a 100% legal method of arrival. Second, the US spent decades contributing to regime change and destabilization in Latin America. We can’t help set someone’s house on fire and then blame them for fleeing.
“It would be helpful if the US would finally acknowledge its contributions to destabilization and regime change in the region,” she said.
Ostensibly, this is part of the Biden administration’s agenda in Central America: NPR reports Harris is also slated to stop in Mexico City on her trip, “to spearhead efforts to address the root cause” of migration. In response to Ocasio-Cortez’s criticism, Harris reiterated: “We have to deal with the root causes, and that is my focus. Period.”
But her original comment— “Do not come”—strips away the administration’s empty rhetoric, seeming to reveal its true concerns about immigration: preserving American interests above all else.