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Harris meets with Guatemala's president amid record-breaking February migrant surge

Vice President Kamala Harris is meeting with the president of Guatemala to talk immigration on the heels of border encounters hitting record highs in February.

Vice President Kamala Harris' Monday meeting with Guatemala's president to discuss "legal pathways" to migration comes on the heels of a Biden administration announcement that last month set a February record for migrant encounters at the U.S. southern border.

White House officials said Harris and Guatemalan President Bernardo Arevalo will discuss efforts by both nations to reduce illegal immigration to the U.S.

The pair is expected to focus on expanding "legal pathways" to migration, including the use of "safe mobility offices." The offices were rolled out across Central America last year to provide migrants with a place to access legal avenues such as refugee resettlement options and work visas. They have been cast as a key part of the administration's border strategy, which officials describe as increasing "consequences" for illegal entry while expanding legal pathways and tackling "root causes" of the migration crisis.

MIGRANT ENCOUNTERS AT SOUTHERN BORDER HIT NEW FEBRUARY RECORD HIGH

As part of the much-balleyhooed campaign to tackle root causes of illegal immigration, Harris, who was tasked in 2021 with leading the government’s diplomatic outreach on the issue, is set to announce $1 billion in private sector commitments to invest in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. It brings the total amount committed to Harris’ "Call to Action" to more than $5 billion. Her efforts have led Harris to be dubbed the "border czar" by Republicans, but it is a label the administration has rejected.

The White House says that those investments have created more than 70,000 new jobs, provided training for more than a million people and connected more than 4.5 million people to the internet.

During their meeting on Monday, Harris is also set to discuss the implementation of Arevalo's agenda and ways the U.S. can support Guatemala's efforts to tackle corruption, promote economic development and include indigenous people in the democratic process. Arevalo won the presidency in August after beating the establishment candidate in a landslide. He has promised to fight the country's established power structure and tackle corruption.

His meeting with Harris about immigration comes at an awkward time – on the heels of an announcement from Customs and Border Protection that migrant encounters in February reached a new high for the month.

REPUBLICAN SENATORS INTRODUCE BILL TO BLOCK MIGRANTS FROM USING BORDER PATROL APP AS ID AT TSA CHECKPOINTS

There were 189,922 migrant encounters along the border in February 2024, an increase of more than 30,000 from the 156,000 encounters in February 2023. The previous February record was 166,010 in 2022.

Despite the record-high for migration to the border overall, illegal immigrant encounters between ports of entry actually dropped from the February 2022 total, meaning the new high overall is explained in part by more people heading to the ports of entry – something that the administration has encouraged people to do with initiatives like the expansion of the use of the CBP One app to schedule appointments at ports of entry. 

Monthly encounters at the southern border dropped from a record 302,000 in December to 176,204 in January but did not continue to decline in February, raising the possibility that the border sees another significant surge in the spring and summer months.

Illegal immigration has been a top issue for voters, according to multiple polls, and looks set to be a top issue going into the November elections. President Biden has called on Congress to pass reforms and provide more funding, including via a bipartisan Senate package proposed earlier this year. Republicans have said that Biden needs no such package, and instead should restore the Trump-era policies his administration has reversed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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