WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 27: U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris delivers opening remarks during a meeting with CEOs on the Northern Triangle in Central America, at the Vice President's Ceremony Office at Eisenhower Executive Office Building May 27, 2021 in Washington, DC. Vice President Harris held a meeting with CEOs of the 12 companies and organizations that had announced commitments to support "inclusive economic development in the Northern Triangle" to discuss "strategy to address the root causes of migration by promoting economic opportunity." (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Bertrand: Confusion surrounded what VP Harris' border role would be
02:07 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Kamala Harris will try to deepen the United States’ “strategic partnership and bilateral relationship” with Guatemala and Mexico on her first foreign trip as vice president, according to her senior staff members.

Harris will visit the region next week as part of her role leading diplomatic efforts to stem the flow of migration from Central America, and she will focus on economic development, climate and food insecurity, and women and young people, according to her staff. The trip underscores the administration’s heightened focus on Central America and migration from the region, especially as record numbers of unaccompanied minors cross the US-Mexico border and officials roll back some Trump-era immigration restrictions.

“The goal of the vice president’s trip is to deepen our strategic partnership and bilateral relationship with both the Guatemalan and Mexican governments to advance a comprehensive strategy to tackle the causes of migration,” said Symone Sanders, Harris’ chief spokesperson and senior adviser, in a call with reporters Tuesday night.

“We will also engage community leaders, workers, young innovators and entrepreneurs, and others about ways to provide economic security, address the core factors of migration, and to give people the hope for a better life at home,” Sanders added.

President Joe Biden had tasked Harris with the politically fraught assignment in March, and one official said she is “really picking up” from where Biden left off, after he was tasked by then-President Barack Obama to lead diplomatic efforts in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in his last term after a surge of unaccompanied minors from those countries began arriving in the US.

As CNN has previously reported, Republican critics and the media have portrayed Harris’ new immigration role as a border assignment, potentially opening her up to criticism for the handling of the seemingly intractable problem. Her performance is critical to her future political career, which could well include a run for president, as well as of special concern right now as she prepares to depart for the foreign trip – her first official foray into in-person, in-country talks about the troubles that push Central American migrants toward the US.

The vice president and her staff have made it clear that they want to focus narrowly on diplomatic efforts in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where they believe they are more likely to achieve tangible results in addressing the root causes of migration, like economic despair, according to two White House officials familiar with the dynamic.

The vice president will land in Guatemala on Sunday and has a day full of events in the country the next day, including an in-person bilateral meeting with President Alejandro Giammattei. Harris will then fly to Mexico that night.

She will have a bilateral meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, in addition to other events on Tuesday before returning to the US the same day.

The vice president will meet with Guatemalan community leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs as well as greet and thank US embassy staff, per Mazin Alfaqih, special adviser to the vice president for the Northern Triangle.

In Mexico, Harris will participate in a conversation with female entrepreneurs, hold a roundtable with labor workers and greet US mission Mexico staff, according to Hillary Quam, special adviser to the vice president for the Western Hemisphere.

While it will be her first in-country and in