U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris announced $1.2 billion in private-sector investments in Central America as part of a program aimed at reducing migration from the region.
“The United States has an important role to play in addressing the root causes of migration,” Harris said Monday at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next door to the White House, before hosting a meeting with leaders from 10 companies to discuss investment initiatives in Central America.
“At the same time, our government cannot do its work alone,” she said.
The White House said the investments in Central America came from such companies as PepsiCo, Mastercard and Cargill.
Harris is heading the Biden administration’s efforts to stem migration from Central America to the U.S. border, with a focus on addressing the reasons people feel compelled to leave their home countries, including lack of economic opportunity.
She said the U.S. initiative was not about the U.S. government “coming in and telling anyone what they should do.”
Rather, she said, it was “about being partners and assisting and helping to facilitate the natural desire of the people in these nations.”
The U.S. Border Patrol reported more than 1.6 million encounters with migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border from the fiscal year beginning September 2020 throughout September 2021, the highest annual total on record.
U.S. President Joe Biden came to office promising to reverse many immigration policies implemented by his predecessor, Donald Trump, but has had to backtrack from some planned changes because of the uptick in migration as well as legal challenges.
The investment plans include a $150 million effort by Cargill to expand support for farmers in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, the White House said. In addition, PepsiCo pledged to invest at least $190 million in northern Central America, which would include money toward improving manufacturing plants and expanding distribution routes.
Harris said Nespresso, Microsoft and Mastercard all pledged in May to invest in Central America and had announced further investment plans on Monday.
Other companies investing in the region include Parkdale Mills, which plans to build a new yarn spinning facility in Honduras that will support 500 employees, and JDE Peet, which will boost its support for farmers in Central America, including helping them adapt to the effects of climate change, diversify income sources and gain better access to markets.
CARE International, a humanitarian aid organization, will put $50 million toward a Center for Gender Equity in Central America focused on economic empowerment for women, financial inclusion and reducing gender-based violence, according to the White House.
Earlier this month, the Biden administration announced it was restarting a Trump-era program that makes asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for U.S. immigration hearings, after a federal court ruled the administration had improperly revoked it. The Biden administration says it continues to work to undo the program in a way that will hold up in court.
Republicans have criticized Biden’s immigration stances, arguing that his plans to reverse Trump’s policies are driving more immigrants to the U.S. border.
The president has also faced criticism on immigration from liberals within his own party who say he still relying too much on Trump-era policies.
A September survey by Reuters/Ipsos found that only 38% of U.S. adults approved of Biden’s handling of immigration.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press.