Kamala Harris photo

Remarks by the Vice President at the Central America Forward Launch Event

February 06, 2023

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, good afternoon, everyone. It is my great pleasure to once again convene this group, and to the new members, to welcome you to this table, which has been a place where we have convened, here and in other rooms in this building -- and, actually, in other places in the country -- to talk about our collective goal of addressing the root causes of irregular migration from the northern part of Central America and to do what I think we all know is in the best interest of all nations, which is to contribute to the health, well-being, security, and prosperity of our neighbors and our world.

So I thank you all for the work you do, and I welcome you.

I, in particular, would like to acknowledge the Partnership for Central America and its leadership. Co-chairs of this are Ajay Banga and Blanca Trevi├▒o -- and I thank you for that -- and, of course, Vice Chair Ray Chambers.

We, the three of us, started meeting almost two years ago, if you can imagine that, to have this conversation about how we could grow what has now become a substantial collaboration of public and private leaders in the public and private sectors to do the work that we have done thus far.

And I thank you, the three of you in particular, for your early leadership and for all that you have done over the course of these last almost two years.

And to the many leaders of our administration, I thank you as well. I'll speak in a moment about the fact that I think most of us who are devote public servants understand that we in government have great possibility in terms of the range at which we work as government. But when we are joined with our friends in the private sector, we can take advantage of the skills and the innovation that they so uniquely, in so many situations, are able to accomplish and grow.

So we have made great and significant progress together thus far, and today we will launch the next steps in our efforts and the next phase in our efforts.

Early on in our administration, President Biden asked me to lead the U.S. government's focus on addressing the root causes of migration, in particular from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Since then, my approach has been guided by three principles, as many of you here have heard over and over again.

One, I do and I think we all believe that people generally do not want to leave home. And when they do, it is because they are either fleeing some harm or because staying home will mean that they cannot satisfy the basic needs of their family and themselves.

Two, we believe and are guided by the principle that governments must collaborate to manage migration, and that means through bilateral, trilateral, multilateral relationships and dialogue. But also, what we must do to address the issue requires that we partner with the private sector if we are to have lasting impact or even profound impact.

Three, to effectively address the root causes of migration, we must also -- and this is absolutely a guiding principle -- promote good governance, reduce violence, and empower women.

With this approach, I led the development of the Root Causes Strategy, which was released in July of 2021. In addition -- a month before that -- about two months before that, actually, in May -- I launched a call to action to encourage private-sector investments in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, in recognition, again, that government cannot do this work alone.

This summer, at the Summit of Americas in Los Angeles, I announced that, working with the Partnership for Central America, we generated more than $3.2 billion in investments.

These investments have created jobs. These investments have increased access to the financial system, including to the Internet. These investments have allowed small businesses -- which have the potential not only in the United States but around the world, and particular in this region -- have the potential to really thrive if they have access to financing. And so that is has been also a target of the financing that we have been providing.

And for example, then, in terms of the -- the product of this work thus far: Over 1 million people have been brought into the formal financial economy, including 65,000 people who now have bank accounts because of our work. And 4 more million people are now connected to the Internet. This is part of the progress that we have achieved thus far.

Our Root Causes Strategy and these investments represent a long-term development effort, but we are already beginning to see positive trends.

Data from the Department of Homeland Security shows that the numbers of migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, where our root causes efforts have been focused, have significantly declined over the last 18 months.

Now, of course, this could change over time, and we will continue to monitor these trends. But this gives us an indication of the positive impact our work has had thus far. And, of course, the research is pretty clear in telling us that when we create economic opportunity in these regions, as we have done, we can potentially have a great impact on those who otherwise would leave home and allow them the opportunity to stay in their home country, which is where they prefer to be.

Today, it is my pleasure to announce additional private-sector commitments and, in particular, a private-sector commitment, in total -- in addition to the 3.2 -- of $956 million. So, that brings us to a total of more than $4.2 billion to date.

Today's announcement also includes commitments from the apparel, the textile, and the financial services industries.

Since the launch of the call to action, our administration has collaborated with the Partnership for Central America to engage nearly 50 companies, foundations, and nonprofits to work together in this effort.

Many of these companies and organizations are present here today. And, again, I thank you. Our meeting today includes not only the work that we intend to do going forward but working together to talk about how we can measure the success we have had thus far and continue to improve on the work we've done.

For many who were at the original table, you will know that it has been built into our approach that we will devise metrics and be very clear. And I thank the university and Michelle for the work that has been happening to help us articulate the metrics by which we will then measure our success in real time -- not waiting for years down the line, but in real time measure our success so that we can regroup, analyze where we are, and, as necessary, improve our approach.

The investments that we have made thus far are on track to meet goals set out by the Partnership for Central America, which include the creation of 1 million new jobs by 2032 and the inclusion of 6 million people in the formal financial system by 2027.

The second announcement I am pleased to make today is the launch of a new phase of our public-private partnership, which we have named Central America Forward.

This includes a new series of U.S. government commitments to complement and support the investments from the private sector.

Specifically, one, we will facilitate infrastructure projects in the northern area of Central America. For example, we will help to identify clean ener- -- clean energy projects -- something that we're excited about around the world but in this particular region where we know we can have great impact.

Another example is the work that we will do on behalf of the government to provide technical assistance to help make these projects viable and to connect potential investors with these projects.

Two, we will help finance these and other projects through the United States International Development Financial Corporation, also known as the DFC, to enable these projects to actually receive the support that we can, as the United States government, uniquely provide.

Three, USAID and the Department of Labor are supporting a series of workforce development programs which will train young leaders in the skills that are needed in the private sector. In particular, we are looking at technical skills in the agricultural industry and the IT sector.

And, finally, today, our private-sector representatives will commit to what we have called a "Good Governance, Good Jobs" declaration. And essentially, this will outline our shared effort to combat corruption and to protect labor rights in the region.

As we advance our efforts to address the root causes of migration, our administration is simultaneously working to ensure a safe, orderly, and humane processing system at the border.

As I have noted, over the last 18 months, migration flows have slowed down from the Northern Central America region. But at the end of last year, we saw a rising level of migration from other countries.

Congress must act to fix our broken immigration system, and Congress must provide the necessary funds for border security.

In the meantime, our administration will continue to use the tools that we have, which is why President Biden announced last month additional resources for border security, new and expanded lawful pathways under our immigration authorities, and consequences for those who fail to use available pathways.

Since the President's announcement, there have been a 99 percent reduction of irregular migration from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

Ultimately, we need Congress to pass legislation that both enhances border security but fixes our broken immigration system. We are a nation of immigrants. We are a nation of immigrants. And it is immigrants who historically, in addition to all others, who have helped strengthen our country, strengthen our economy, and grow our ability to be innovative in a way that has been a model for other places around the world.

So let us, all of us, as leaders, be it in the private or public sector, agree that we must not politicize this issue. Let us get in front of it, and let us deal with it in a way that is productive and will strengthen our nation.

There is also a serious issue of human smuggling. And I will say, as a former prosecutor, having worked on this issue as a line prosecutor and as Attorney General of California, what we see in these behaviors are, really, predatory actors. And we've got to take this seriously and hold these criminal organizations accountable.

Their patterns are quite clear. Smugglers extort thousands of dollars from migrants and subject them to dangerous and inhumane conditions. They -- sometimes we've seen examples of where migrants have been abandoned in the desert or packed into the back of a truck, left to die in the heat.

Since April of '22, in just the last 10 months, we have made more than 7,000 arrests in this regard, which is the result of our historic increase in the resources that need to be put into arrests and prosecutions.

With regard to drug smuggling in particular, we are concerned that what we have been seeing coming across includes deadly and illicit fentanyl trafficking. It has fueled the opioid crisis and is a leading cause of death among the 18- through 42-year-old population in the United States.

So our dedication of additional resources, in particular additional personnel and scanning resources, technology, has resulted in a 200 percent increase in the seizure of fentanyl along the border in the last two years.

When it comes to transnational criminal organizations, we must attack every aspect of their business and ensure swift and severe accountability for these activities. And that is the work that our administration has been doing, including sanctioning those who do business with known traffickers,

freezing bank accounts, and restricting traffickers' access to the materials they use to produce their deadly drugs.

So, with all of that, I will end with where I started, which is to thank all the partners here for the work that you are doing.

This is a complex issue. There are many facets to this, both in terms of what can happen when we don't address problems for which there are solutions, but there is also an aspect of this that really is about believing in human potential, understanding the capacity of all people, and doing what we uniquely have an ability to do with the resources we have to invest in that potential and to invest in the hope and the dreams and the desires of all people to take care of themselves, their communities, and their families.

That is the work of this group, guided by the optimism that I think always is the root of any progress here and around the world.

So I thank you each for the amount of time, energy, and thought that you have put into our collaboration.

And with that, I would like to ask Ajay Banga, who is the co-chair of the Partnership for Central America, to share his thoughts.

Ajay brings decades of experience to business and to the private sector. Many of you have worked with him over the course of his career.

It has been my great honor to work with you, Ajay, over the last two years, from the very first conversations we had, I believe back in February of 2021, when you put all that you have, in terms of your skill, your experience, and your resources, into allowing this to be as productive as it's been thus far.

Ajay Banga, thank you.

Kamala Harris, Remarks by the Vice President at the Central America Forward Launch Event Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/359595

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