Remarks by Vice President Harris at Virtual Roundtable of Experts on the Northern Triangle
Vice President’s Ceremonial Office
10:08 A.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: So I’m very much looking forward to our discussion this morning. And by way of introduction to the discussion, as everyone knows, a few weeks ago, the President asked me to take on a role of leadership in addressing the root causes of migration and to focus on the Northern Triangle countries, similar to the work he did when he was Vice President years ago.
And so the work we are doing is informed by that approach and that strategy and that direction. It is work that also is informed, for me, by certain — just basic principles and beliefs.
One is that most people don’t want to leave home. They don’t want to leave the place where their grandparents lived. They don’t want to leave the place where they are familiar with the culture and the language. You know, to use a phrase from an old television show, “Cheers,” you know, “Where everybody knows your name.” Most people don’t want to leave home.
And when they do, it is usually for one of two reasons, or a combination of the two: They are fleeing some harm, or to remain home is to remain in a position where there is no opportunity to meet essential needs that include feeding their children, keeping a roof over their head, and engaging in productive work.
So that is one part of what informs my perspective on this issue of addressing the root causes.
The other is this: There is an important four-letter word, which I hope always inspires us to do the work we do, and that word is “hope.” And in this regard, in — in our focus on the Northern Triangle, looking at the fact that we have an opportunity — as the United States of America, with the resources and with the will that we have — to provide the people of the Northern Triangle with some hope that if they stay at home, help is on the way and they can have some hope that the opportunities and the needs that they have will be met in some way.
Now, I will say that — I’m very clear — I think — I know we all are. This is a group of experts; I’m, again, really looking forward to hearing from you. We are all very clear the work that we have the potential to do in the Northern Triangle will not evidence itself overnight by any stretch.
We are looking at issues that have been a long time in the making. We are looking at issues that relate to the need for economic development, a need for resilience around extreme climate; looking at the fact that this is, in large part — these Northern Triangle countries — a large part of their economic base was agriculture, and then what the severe climate experiences have done in dampening and really harming their ability to have that economic driver in their countries.
We are looking at issues that relate to violence and corruption.
We are looking at extreme food insecurity and what must be addressed there.
And so the focus that we are bringing to our work in the Northern Triangle is really about assessing and figuring out what we might do to encourage economic development, addressing what we know is — is present there in terms of the need to address issues that relate to integrity of government, rule of law, and corruption — but looking at it also in the context of what we can do with the resources we have to assist on issues like agriculture, farming, water irrigation. I happen to really care a lot about water policy.
We are looking at how we can internationalize our effort, and so there is great work that is already happening within our initiative. That includes reaching out to our allies, through the U.N.
There is the work that we need to do to look at, again, stability around food insecurity, but also stability around making sure that women and girls are being protected and have the opportunities that they deserve to have.
So these are some of the areas of focus for us. And we are convening this group of experts today to hear from you because you all have been working for years in this region. And I want to learn from you and get your expert advice on what works and what does not work to address, again, the root causes of people leaving the Northern Triangle so that we can, as a member of the Western Hemisphere, do what we are able to do to address those — those needs, knowing that it affects the entire Western Hemisphere, and that means us.
So, with that, I want to thank everyone for being here today. And I’m looking forward to beginning our discussion.
Q Madam Vice President, will you visit the southern border. Do you have a trip planned? Will you plan one in the future if the situation with migration doesn’t resolve itself?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, as I mentioned to the experts, the President has asked Secretary Mayorkas to address what is going on at the border. And he has been working very hard at that, and it’s showing some progress because of his hard work. I have been asked to lead the issue of dealing with root causes in the Northern Triangle, similar to what then-Vice President did many years ago.
But I will tell you that these are issues that are not going to be addressed overnight, in terms of the root causes issue. A large part of our focus is diplomatic, in terms of what we can do, in a way that is about working with these countries.
So, for example: I have talked with the President of Mexico, the President of Guatemala. We have — well, I’m probably saying too much — we have plans in the work to go to Guatemala as soon as possible, given all of the restrictions in terms of COVID and things of that nature.
But these are areas of focus for a very important and good reason. We must address the symptoms, and that is what is happening with the team of folks who are working on the border, led by Ali Mayorkas. But we also have to deal with the root causes, otherwise we are just in a perpetual system of only dealing with the symptoms.
So, our focus is to deal with the root causes, and I’m looking forward to traveling, hopefully, as my first trip, to the Northern Triangle — stopping in Mexico and then going to Guatemala sometime soon.
Q Madam Vice President, how do you evaluate success? How do you evaluate success? This has been an intractable problem for years.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: There are many metrics, and I’m happy to follow up with you as we — after I talk to the experts also. But I agree with you: We have to figure out how we’re going to assess our impact.
But let me be clear — and everyone who’s been working on this, you know, for decades will tell you: It will not be obvious overnight. The work we have to do is going to require a commitment that is continuous, that we institutionalize with our partners.
And — and that’s the work that I’m prepared to do, which is to begin that process of meaningful work, knowing that we’re going to have to have a long-term strategy. And it will take some time to see the benefits of that work, but it will be worth it.
10:16 A.M. EDT