Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday announced nearly $1 billion in private pledges as part of the Biden administration’s ongoing efforts addressing human mobility from Central America to the United States. The pledges announced this week from companies including Target, Nestle, and microloan group Microwd totaled $956 million.
Since the vice president’s work leading the administration’s effort, investments intended for the region have now come to more than $4.2 billion, and have brought together nearly 50 companies and organizations with a goal of addressing “the root causes of migration by creating economic opportunity in the region,” the White House said.
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In remarks from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Monday, Vice President Harris said that since getting tasked by President Joe Biden with diplomatic efforts concerning the region in March 2021, her approach “has been guided by three principles,” including acknowledging that migrants often have no choice but to uproot themselves and leave their communities, homes, and, oftentimes, families.
“One, I do and I think we all believe that people generally do not want to leave home,” Harris said. “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.” Harris further said that governments must collaborate on efforts, and that this work must go hand-in-hand with addressing local corruption and empowering those affected by it.
Key investments highlighted by the administration include $20 million in debt from Microwd, “which offers microloans to female entrepreneurs.” The company has a goal of impacting one million people by 2030, the administration said. Nestle and Nescafé have committed to supporting thousands of coffee growers in the region, while online learning platform Chegg “has committed to certifying 100,000 young adult learners,” the administration said.
It is necessary, however, to acknowledge the exploitative past of companies like Nestle. Whether there is a good-faith partnership here that truly respects workers will need to be closely watched.
Past announcements by the Biden administration have also included nearly $4 million in combined commitments from the Honduran Coffee Company and Grupo Cadelga “to improve incomes for coffee farmers. To date, their support to nearly 10,800 coffee farmer households has led to $78.6 million in sales.” Heifer International has “committed $4 million in partnership with USAID to improve incomes for 15,000 dairy farmers in Honduras.”
The vice president noted that other policy efforts include the recent expansion of humanitarian parole for Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan migrants. The administration said that since the January implementation of the program, migrant crossings at the U.S./Mexico border have plummeted. In fact, early numbers for January are set to be the lowest in two years. However, Republican states led by indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton are now suing to block the policy, which they didn’t do when the administration expanded parole for Ukrainian refugees.
Harris said that arrivals “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.” She said economic opportunities under the initiative could “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.”
In a reaction, immigrant rights advocacy group America’s Voice said the efforts are “a timely reminder that the Biden administration is leaning into immigration issues in a new way, no longer content to cede the debate and framing to a Republican Party hellbent on politicizing immigration and blocking the broader reforms we need and the country supports.” The organization urged the administration to use its authority under the law “to expand and redesignate” Temporary Protected Status for Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, and “refrain from adopting the punitive, failed and unpopular policies of his predecessor,” like a potential resurrection of that administration’s unlawful transit ban.
The organization said that the president should highlight the announcement as an immigration moment in Tuesday night’s State of the Union address. He should mention how Republicans are actually seeking to again increase numbers at the border, should their new lawsuit succeed. It could be a prime moment to inform the nation as House Republicans are currently holding yet another border-related performance that will be rich in theatrics, and poor in facts.
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