Why Roma migrants from Europe are taking rafts from Mexico to enter the U.S

By Adrees Latif and Radu-Sorin Marinas

ROMA, Texas (Reuters) -Among the hundreds of Central American migrants crossing the Rio Grande river daily on rafts from Mexico to Texas, dozens stood out on a recent day. They were generally taller and some wore skirts, stylish shoes and tracksuits, while many of the other migrants wore T-shirts, pants and jeans.

U.S. border patrol officers who apprehended them near the river tried to speak to them in Spanish. There was a pause as some of the border crossers explained in broken English that they were Romanians, a Reuters photographer said.

Scores of Romanians who are part of the Roma ethnic minority have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas in recent weeks to seek asylum, highlighting the far-flung origins of some of the migrants who have contributed to border arrests in recent months reaching a 20-year high.

Reuters witnessed large groups of these migrants crossing the Rio Grande on rafts on multiple occasions in May. The migrants Reuters spoke to said they were fleeing racism in Romania and wanted to seek asylum in the United States.

The Roma are Europe’s largest ethnic minority and have a long history of social exclusion and discrimination.

Over three weeks, a Reuters photographer saw nearly 200 Romanians crossing at different points along the Texas border, many extended family groups of 10-15 people.

Border patrol agents have apprehended 2,217 Romanians so far in fiscal year 2021, more than the 266 caught in fiscal 2020 and the 289 in fiscal 2019, according to data provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.

More than 2,000 Romanians crossed the southwest border in fiscal year 2016. Current arrivals are on pace to be the highest since 2007, the earliest year for which citizenship arrival data is available.

Margareta Matache, director of the Roma Program at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, said many Roma fled Romania to escape persecution and dire economic circumstances, partly fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Currently, U.S. policies and policy proposals offer hope for more humane and just policies, including for immigrants,” Matache said. “They (Roma) are looking for a better life in a place where they are not exposed to violence, discrimination, and disrespect.”

The Romanian government said it had not been notified by the United States of any detained citizens but said its embassy officials have contacted local authorities after reading media reports.

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights found in a 2016 survey of nearly 8,000 Roma people in nine European countries that about 80% of the Roma population was living below the national poverty line.

There is no official population count for Roma people, who reside in many countries and have long faced prejudice in Europe and worldwide. Most live in eastern Europe, particularly in Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary.

According to Romanian media reports, many Romanian migrants fly from Paris to Mexico City as tourists as they do not need visas to enter Mexico. Then smugglers take them by bus to the U.S. border where they cross the Rio Grande by boat or raft.

(Reporting by Adrees Latif in Roma, Texas, Radu-Sorin Marinas in Bucharest, and Ted Hesson in Washington; Writing by Mimi Dwyer; Editing by Ross Colvin and Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. downgrades Mexico air safety rating

By David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government on Tuesday downgraded Mexico’s aviation safety rating, an action barring Mexican carriers from adding new U.S. flights and limiting airlines’ ability to carry out marketing agreements.

Plans for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) downgrade were first reported on Friday by Reuters.

The FAA said it was “fully committed to helping the Mexican aviation authority improve its safety oversight system to a level that meets” international standards and “ready to provide expertise and resources” to resolve issues in the assessment process.

The agency had held lengthy talks with Mexican aviation regulators about its concerns.

On Monday, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said U.S. authorities should not downgrade Mexico’s air safety designation, arguing his country was complying with all relevant norms.

“We have been complying with all the requirements. We feel that this decision should not be made,” Lopez Obrador said at a regular news conference when asked about the possibility.

The FAA said its reassessment of the Agencia Federal de Aviacion Civil from October 2020 to February identified several areas of non-compliance with minimum international safety standards.

The Category 2 rating means Mexico lacks “necessary requirements to oversee the country’s air carriers in accordance with minimum international safety standards, or the civil aviation authority is lacking in one or more areas such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record keeping, inspection procedures, or resolution of safety concerns,” the FAA said.

Downgrading Mexico to Category 2 means current U.S. service by Mexican carriers are unaffected, but they cannot launch new flights. U.S. airlines will no longer be able to market and sell tickets with their names and designator codes on Mexican-operated flights and the FAA will increase scrutiny of Mexican airline flights to the United States, the agency said.

Delta Air Lines said on Tuesday an FAA downgrade was not about partner Aeromexico and will have little impact on customers.

“This is not about Aeromexico. This is about the Mexican version of the FAA not having some of the right protocols in place,” Delta president Glen Hauenstein said at a Wolfe Research conference.

Delta has a codeshare arrangement with Aeromexico enabling the two air carriers to sell seats on each other’s flights.

Delta will be forced to remove its codes on Aeromexico flights following the downgrade, though Aeromexico could continue to code on Delta flights and members of Delta’s loyalty program could still receive SkyMiles on Aeromexico flights that would normally carry the code, Hauenstein added.

This would not be the first time the FAA downgraded Mexico’s air safety rating. In 2010, the agency downgraded Mexico due to suspected shortcomings within its civil aviation authority, then restored its top rating about four months later.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Howard Goller and David Gregorio)

U.S. land border restrictions extended with Canada, Mexico

By David Shepardson and Steve Scherer

WASHINGTON/OTTAWA (Reuters) -United States land borders with Canada and Mexico will remain closed to non-essential travel until at least June 21, the U.S. and Canadian governments said on Thursday.

The restrictions were first imposed in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and have been extended in 30-day increments.

“We’re working closely with Canada & Mexico to safely ease restrictions as conditions improve,” the U.S. Homeland Security Department said on Twitter.

It remains unclear whether restrictions will be lifted before the busy summer travel season. U.S. officials are also weighing whether to loosen air travel restrictions that prevent much of the world’s population from visiting.

Border towns and businesses have been hit hard by a lack of cross-border traffic. Many U.S. lawmakers have urged loosening the restrictions or providing a timetable for resuming normalized travel. They say Americans who own property in Canada cannot maintain their homes.

U.S. officials said discussions with Canada and Mexico had been unable to win agreement on ending the restrictions.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Tuesday he hoped that U.S.-Mexican border restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic would be lifted before summer ends in September.

Canada has also been requiring air passengers arriving in Canada to be tested for COVID-19 before a hotel quarantine period.

Canada lags the United States on vaccinations against the coronavirus, and much of the country has been fighting a third wave of the pandemic with school and business closures, though matters have improved in recent weeks.

Air travelers to Canada are required to have had a test within three days of departure, and then again on arrival. If the airport text comes back negative, they can finish a 14-day quarantine at home.

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller)

Mexico eyes easing U.S. border curbs from June 22, depending on COVID

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexico and the United States are discussing relaxing curbs on non-essential land border crossings from June 22, depending on the spread of COVID-19 and how many people in both countries have been vaccinated, Mexico’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

The two neighbors have agreed to extend for another month restrictions on non-essential travel across their shared border until just before midnight on June 21, the ministry said in statement on Twitter.

Mexico has also decided to extend curbs on non-essential travel on its southern border with Guatemala over the same period, it added.

“Mexico and the United States are in discussions to relax from June 22 the restrictions on border crossings on the basis of indices on the spread of COVID-19 and the number of vaccines applied on both sides of the border,” the ministry said.

Mexico, which has a population of 126 million, has so far administered nearly 24 million vaccine doses against COVID-19, the health ministry said on Tuesday.

Numbers of new infections and deaths from the virus in Mexico have fallen sharply in recent weeks.

Earlier, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told a regular news conference that his country was hoping that restrictions on the U.S.-Mexico border imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic would be lifted during the summer.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito)

‘Want the COVID-19 vaccine? Have a U.S. visa?’ Latinos travel north for the shot

By Anthony Esposito, Cassandra Garrison and Marco Aquino

MEXICO CITY/LIMA (Reuters) – “Want the COVID-19 vaccine? Have a U.S. visa? Contact us,” reads a travel agency advertisement, offering deals to Mexicans to fly to the United States to get inoculated.

From Mexico to far-flung Argentina, thousands of Latin Americans are booking flights to the United States to take advantage of one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns, as rollouts in their own countries sputter.

Latin America is one of the regions worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic, with the death toll set to pass 1 million this month, and many do not want to wait any longer for their turn to get vaccinated.

Some people are going it alone, while others have tapped travel agencies, which have responded by offering packages that arrange the vaccine appointment, flights, hotel stay and even offer extras such as city and shopping tours.

Gloria Sanchez, 66, and her husband, Angel Menendez 69, traveled in late April to Las Vegas to get Johnson & Johnson’s single dose vaccine.

“We don’t trust the public health services in this country,” said Sanchez, now back in Mexico. “If we hadn’t traveled to the United States where I felt a little more comfortable I wouldn’t have gotten vaccinated here.”

A travel agent in Mexico City organized the trip for them and an associate in Las Vegas handled things on the U.S. side, Sanchez said.

The U.S.-based associate signed them up for a vaccine appointment, then drove them to a Las Vegas convention center where they presented their Mexican passports and received their shots.

“We decided to make it a vacation and we went for a whole week, walked like crazy, ate really expensive but good food, and did some shopping,” said Sanchez.

As demand has boomed, flight prices from Mexico to the United States have risen an average of 30%-40% since mid-March, said Rey Sanchez, who runs travel agency RSC Travel World.

“There are thousands of Mexicans and thousands of Latin Americans who have gone to the United States to get vaccinated,” he said, adding that the top destinations have been Houston, Dallas, Miami and Las Vegas.

Reuters was unable to find official data on how many Latin Americans are traveling to the United States to get vaccinated. Travelers do not generally state vaccination as a reason to travel.

But U.S. cities have caught on to the trend, which is ushering much needed business into cash-strapped hotels, restaurants and other service activities.

“Welcome to New York, your vaccine is waiting for you! We’ll administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at iconic sites across our city,” New York City’s government announced on Twitter on May 6.

The U.S. embassy in Peru recently advised residents on Twitter that travelers could visit the United States for medical treatment, including vaccinations.

Latin Americans who had traveled on a U.S. tourist visa that Reuters spoke to said they were able to obtain shots with IDs from their home countries.

As far south as Argentina, travel agencies are selling vaccination tourism trips.

An advertisement in Buenos Aires details the estimated cost of getting vaccinated in Miami: air ticket $2,000, hotel for a week $550, food $350, car rental $500, vaccine $0. For a total of $3,400.

NO HOPE OF A VACCINE SOON

While initially it was mostly wealthy Latin Americans looking to travel, increasingly people with more modest means are making bookings. For many, the cost of lengthy flights makes it a major undertaking.

“I’m getting money together to travel to California in June,” said a worker at a car parts store in Lima, who asked not to be named for fear it could jeopardize his travel plans. “Considering how things are going here, there’s no hope of a vaccine shot soon.”

The slow rollout of vaccinations in most Latin American countries was a common reason cited for traveling to the United States, said Sanchez.

With little to no infrastructure to make vaccines domestically, campaigns in Latin America have been hampered by supply delays and shortages. The United States has administered nearly 262 million vaccine doses, some 2.3 times the number of shots given in all of Latin America, which has roughly twice the population, according to figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Our World in Data.

Distrust in vaccination campaigns in Latin America is also a factor, said Sanchez.

Reports of batches of fake doses being seized by authorities or the required second dose not being available when it was time are some of the reasons Latin Americans gave for their distrust.

Vaccine tourism has fueled a jump in air travel to the United States, with fares for some last-minute flights doubling or even tripling since January, even as airlines increase capacity, according to Rene Armas Maes, commercial vice president at MIDAS Aviation, a London-based consultancy.

LATAM Airlines Group, the region’s largest carrier, said on Thursday it was seeing increased demand from South Americans seeking to travel to the United States to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Aeromexico said passenger traffic between Mexico and the United States increased 35% from March to April.

And American Airlines also said it had seen demand growing rapidly from parts of Latin America in recent months and it had increased capacity, particularly to Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.

“We’re matching the increased demand in many of these markets, with additional frequencies, new routes or with the use of widebody aircraft, resulting in more capacity,” said American Airlines.

For 29-year-old Giuliana Colameo, the chance to get vaccinated was a relief after she and her boyfriend in Mexico City were both infected by the coronavirus in 2020.

They traveled to New York City where they got vaccinated at a pharmacy last month. She said they were the only two people getting the shots.

“When they give you the vaccine it’s like you almost cry. It’s a relief: it gives you hope,” said Colameo. “I feel very happy I did it and hopefully more people can do it.”

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Cassandra Garrison in Mexico City and Marco Aquino in Lima; Additional reporting by Carolina Mandl in Sao Paulo and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

U.S. expands effort to allow in vulnerable migrants at Mexico border

By Kristina Cooke, Mica Rosenberg and Ted Hesson

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The United States has begun rolling out a new system to identify and admit the most vulnerable migrants at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to three people briefed on the matter.

The new system, which started at the port of entry in El Paso, Texas, this week, creates a more formal process that allows pre-screened asylum seekers to enter the United States on humanitarian grounds, despite a broad policy of expulsions at the border.

The expulsion policy was put in place under former Republican President Donald Trump in March 2020 citing public health concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic. President Joe Biden has not revoked it.

By next week, the effort to streamline exemptions is expected to expand to other Texas ports in Brownsville, Laredo and Hidalgo, as well as in Nogales, Arizona, U.S. officials said on a call with advocates on Wednesday, according to two people familiar with the discussion.

As of Wednesday, roughly two dozen migrants had been admitted through the program, the two sources said, and the number of people allowed to enter going forward will depend on capacity to safely process them at the ports. The numbers will likely be limited, however, because of the non-profit groups’ capacity to screen migrants who might be eligible.

The move illustrates the struggle Biden is facing – while his administration is declaring the southern border closed to hopeful migrants, the number of apprehensions has reached a 20-year high. Border patrol picked up nearly 170,000 migrants between ports of entry in March and made a similar number of arrests in April, according to two people briefed on preliminary figures.

Migrant advocates have pressured Biden to do more to allow in asylum seekers to submit asylum claims.

The new process tasks a handful of non-profits working in Mexico with identifying and referring the neediest asylum seekers to U.S. officials, including those with medical issues, the people briefed on the matter said.

Migrants who have experienced long periods of displacement, sexual minorities and victims of crime, trafficking and sexual violence will also be among those considered for the program.

Those approved through the process will be given COVID-19 tests and a date and time to go to a port of entry. They will be released into the United States and given a notice to appear in immigration court to present their asylum claims.

A State Department spokesperson said on Wednesday that the “border remains closed” but that the government was working to streamline the system to identify and lawfully process “particularly vulnerable individuals who warrant humanitarian exception under the order.”

A spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the United States requested the agency channel U.S. funds to the non-profit groups involved.

EXPULSIONS CONTINUE

Biden early on in his presidency exempted unaccompanied children from the Trump-era expulsions order, issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and known as Title 42. But his administration has continued to expel tens of thousands of single adults and some families.

The expulsions have left many migrants stranded in dangerous border cities in Mexico. Since Biden took office, the non-profit group Human Rights First has documented at least 492 violent attacks, including rapes and kidnappings of migrants blocked from entry under the policy.

The new system builds on admissions that have been happening in recent weeks through the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of several organizations that sued the U.S. government to end the expulsions policy.

Since late March, the ACLU has been able to get up to 35 families per day admitted at ports of entry along the border and expects to continue its process in parallel with efforts from other non-profit groups.

Advocates, however, say they are dismayed that Biden has left the border expulsion policy in place, even with exceptions, arguing that it cuts off access to the U.S. asylum process.

“It’s just a continuation of a process that’s illegal at the end of the day,” said Eleanor Acer, senior director of refugee protection with Human Rights First.

(Reporting by Kristina Cooke in San Francisco and Mica Rosenberg in New York and Ted Hesson in Washington D.C., editing by Ross Colvin and Aurora Ellis)

Important to get U.S. vaccine help along border, Mexican official says

By Adriana Barrera and Cassandra Garrison

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico is ramping up requests for more COVID-19 shots from the United States, and in the coming days may ask for assistance vaccinating people along the countries’ shared border, the Mexican government official in charge of vaccine diplomacy said.

Mexico has received 2.7 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine from the United States, but has not made progress on accessing larger U.S. stocks, deputy foreign minister for multilateral affairs Martha Delgado said in an interview with Reuters late last week.

“We are once again taking up dialogue to insist on this need,” she said, ahead of an upcoming visit by Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard to the United States.

Mexico may also put forward a proposal to prioritize vaccination along its border with the United States, Delgado said, describing the issue as important and a concern in Mexico.

The proximity and human ties between populous towns and cities along the border means it is easy for the coronavirus to re-infect both sides.

The U.S.-Mexico border region, which stretches 3,175 km (1,973 miles), is home to at least 14.6 million people, according to government data from 2018.

Tens of thousands of Central Americans have trekked to the U.S. border in recent months, in a growing humanitarian challenge for U.S. President Joe Biden. Delgado did not specify whether a new proposal for vaccines in the border area would include migrants.

The supply of vaccines has become a global diplomatic tussle.

Mexico government officials on Friday declared the doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine shipped from the United States safe and approved by two health regulators after operations were halted at the U.S. plant that produced them due to contamination.

Following Delgado’s interview with Reuters, a representative for her declined to comment on whether the issue could impact future vaccine agreements with the United States.

Ebrard will also make trips to Russia, China and India, as part of efforts to ensure supply agreements are honored.

Part of his agenda in the United States will be devoted to vaccines, including “scientific exchange,” Delgado said.

Mexico has so far received more than 21 million shots, primarily from Pfizer, AstraZeneca, China’s Sinovac and Cansino and Russia’s Sputnik V.

But supply delays and shortages have hampered the campaign to vaccinate its population of 126 million.

The country has relied on deals with China and Russia amid gaps by Western suppliers and slow shipments through global COVAX facility mechanism, led by the GAVI vaccines alliance and the World Health Organization to promote equitable access.

Mexico was considering hosting Phase III trials for an additional Chinese vaccine, Delgado said. She declined to say which one.

(Reporting by Adriana Barrera and Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Karishma Singh)

U.S. adds 116 countries to its ‘Do Not Travel’ advisory list

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. State Department has added at least 116 countries this week to its “Level Four: Do Not Travel” advisory list, putting the UK, Canada, France, Israel, Mexico, Germany and others on the list, citing a “very high level of COVID-19.”

On Monday, the State Department said it would boost the number of countries receiving its highest advisory rating to about 80% of countries worldwide.

Before Tuesday, the State Department listed 34 out of about 200 countries as “Do Not Travel.” The State Department now lists 150 countries at Level Four. It declined to say when it would complete the updates.

The State Department said on Monday the move did not imply a reassessment of current health situations in some countries, but rather “reflects an adjustment in the State Department’s Travel Advisory system to rely more on (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s) existing epidemiological assessments.”

The recommendations are not mandatory and do not bar Americans from travel.

Other countries in the “Do Not Travel” list include Finland, Egypt, Belgium, Turkey, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and Spain. Some countries like China and Japan remain at Level 3: Reconsider Travel.”

Most Americans already had been prevented from traveling to much of Europe because of COVID-19 restrictions. Washington has barred nearly all non-U.S. citizens who have recently been in most of Europe, China, Brazil, Iran and South Africa.

On Tuesday, the United States extended by a further 30 days restrictions in place for 13 months that bar non-essential travel at its Canadian and Mexican borders.

Nick Calio, who heads Airlines for America, a trade group representing major U.S. carriers, told a U.S. Senate panel on Wednesday that policymakers needed to find a “road map” to reopening international travel.

Earlier this month, the CDC said fully vaccinated people could safely travel within the United States at “low risk,” but its director, Rochelle Walensky, discouraged Americans from doing so because of high coronavirus cases nationwide.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Bumpy first weeks of Harris’ immigration role show challenges of the job

By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – When President Joe Biden entrusted Vice President Kamala Harris in March with leading U.S. diplomatic efforts to cut immigration from Mexico and Central America’s “Northern Triangle,” experts described the job as both “perilous” and a “political grenade.”

The subsequent weeks have shown just how challenging the role will be as the administration seeks to defuse a crisis at the border.

Harris has pushed Central American countries to increase troops at their borders and said she plans to visit Guatemala and Mexico, which could happen in as soon as a month.

At a meeting with advisers last week, which focused heavily on anti-corruption efforts, Harris spoke about tackling the root causes of migration that have plagued the region for decades – gang violence, drug-trafficking cartels, hurricanes, floods and earthquakes – with diplomacy.

But thorny issues have already surfaced with the leaders of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, and unaccompanied children continue to show up at the U.S. border with Mexico.

Representatives for Harris did not comment but cited administration statements on the issue.

To succeed in her task, Harris needs to balance opposing priorities, experts and advisers said.

They include maintaining political distance from Central American leaders while conveying that the United States wants to cooperate, and long-term strategies to fix the underlying reasons people are fleeing those countries as well as small wins that can result in immediate success at home.

Harris is still calibrating the right tone, said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute, who recently participated in a meeting Harris convened about problems in the region.

“The tone issue looks at how do you both recognize the need to work with the people in the region and at the same time call attention to some of the real deficits of governance in these countries,” Selee said.

The vice president is working with members of Biden’s Cabinet and the U.S. special envoy to the Northern Triangle, Ricardo Zuniga, and having weekly lunches with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a senior White House official said.

She gets updates on the region during the President’s Daily Brief and holds regular meetings on Central America with her team, the official said.

The White House’s immigration team has shown signs of strain. Roberta Jacobson, the high-profile “border czar,” is leaving at the end of the month, the White House said unexpectedly on April 9.

Tensions are also rising between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the White House over overloaded shelters at the border.

Harris has started working as well with the private sector to expand investment opportunities in the Northern Triangle and with international organizations about strengthening those economies, while overseeing the use and flow of aid and trying to increase ways for asylum seekers to apply from home, the official said.

TOUGH SPOT FOR DIPLOMACY

In what some U.S. experts called a challenge to the Biden administration, Guatemalan lawmakers refused on Monday to swear in a corruption-fighting judge, Constitutional Court President Gloria Porras, who U.S. officials had seen as key to the fight against graft there.

Harris spoke with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on March 30, when he asked her about the possibility of purchasing COVID-19 vaccines, officials told Reuters, a question that was not included in the U.S. readout of the call.

On April 5, Guatemala said it was purchasing 16 million Russian Sputnik V vaccines instead, to inoculate about half the country’s population.

Getting vaccines to those countries is an immediate way to show that the United States cares, said Selee, adding it was high on their list “because it is key to restarting economic life.”

An administration official said it was not politically tenable to assure vaccine supplies to other countries before inoculating every American. A spokeswoman for Harris declined comment on the issue.

El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, who won a landslide victory in 2019 on a pledge to root out corruption but has faced criticism from rights groups for what they see as autocratic leanings, criticized the U.S. strategy after Harris’ new role was announced.

“A recycled plan that did not work in 2014 will not work now,” he wrote on Twitter.

In March, a U.S. court sentenced the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez to life in prison for drug trafficking. There is also a U.S. Senate bill proposing sanctions on the Honduran president for corruption.

Harris “must keep a distance from the Honduran government right now,” said Lisa Haugaard, co-director of the Latin America Working Group, who attended last week’s meeting with Harris.

Harris has not yet spoken with Bukele or Hernandez.

EARLY ‘WIN’ CRITICIZED BY SUPPORTERS

Her deal with Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to increase troops at their borders to stop people from fleeing – which the White House announced on April 12, is already being criticized by aid groups.

“Restricting people from fleeing for their lives is not a win, it is illegal,” said Noah Gottschalk, the global policy lead for Oxfam America. “We are concerned this will lead to human rights violations by security forces.”

A representative from Oxfam participated in last week’s meeting.

Harris’ focus on diplomacy, not the way that asylum seekers are treated at the border, is a hard political sell at home, for Republicans and Democrats, experts said.

“Democratic voters do not care as much about diplomatic maneuverings as they do about the handling of migrants at the border and that is how they will ultimately judge Harris,” said Jennifer Piscopo, associate professor of politics and Latin American studies at Los Angeles-based Occidental College.

“It will be hard to separate her from what is happening at the border.”

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Heather Timmons and Peter Cooney)

White House official says Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala to increase troops on borders

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration has secured agreements for Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala to place more troops on their borders, a White House official told Reuters on Monday amid the growing number of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexican border.

The official did not provide any details. Earlier, White House aide Tyler Moran told MSNBC that the Biden administration had secured agreements with Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala to put more troops on their own border.

Reuters was not immediately able to establish what agreements the officials were referring to or whether they go beyond existing enforcement measures in those countries.

The Mexican, Honduran and Guatemalan governments did not respond immediately to requests for comment about any new measures.

Reuters reported in March that Mexico had stepped up raids aimed at rounding up immigrants transiting illegally north toward the U.S. border, and reinforced its efforts along its border with Guatemala.

Those efforts have not yet produced significant results, and have been complicated by pandemic restrictions and new rules limiting the capacity of Mexican immigration detention centers.

In January, just before Biden took office, Guatemala deployed security forces to halt a U.S.-bound caravan of migrants, and Guatemalan government officials have vowed to keep up the pressure.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Laura Gottesdiener in Mexico City, Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa and Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City; writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Tim Ahmann)