WASHINGTON, DC: US Vice President Kamala Harris participates in a virtual bilateral meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei at the Vice President's Ceremonial Office at Eisenhower Executive Office Building Monday. - AFP

WASHINGTON: Vice President Kamala Harris told Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei during a virtual call Monday the US will give $310 million in humanitarian relief to Central America, her office said, as the region tackles a wave of migration north. Harris, who leads President Joe Biden's efforts to address the influx of migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to the US-Mexico border, met with Giammattei by videoconference, prior to her visit to Central America scheduled for June.

"In light of the dire situation and acute suffering faced by millions of people in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, Vice President Harris announced an additional $310 million in US government support for humanitarian relief and to address food insecurity," a statement from her office said after the meeting.

It said the two governments will also coordinate law enforcement efforts to tackle criminal organizations whose activities help drive migration, as well as open migrant resource centers to establish safe, legal migration. "The United States plans to increase relief to the region, strengthen our cooperation to manage migration in an effective, secure and humane manner," Harris promised Giammattei.

Biden has asked Congress for $861 million to address the causes that drive irregular immigration from Central America, within the framework of his $4 billion plan for the region. His proposal is included in the budget project for next year that has yet to be discussed and approved by legislators. More than 172,000 undocumented immigrants, including nearly 19,000 unaccompanied minors, were detained in March at the southern border of the United States, a rise of 71 percent in a month and the highest level in 15 years.

Most of the migrants come from the three countries of the Central American Northern Triangle. That area, vulnerable to natural disasters, was hit by two devastating hurricanes in November and is struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic and a prolonged drought. "We want to work with you to address both the acute causes and the root causes (of migration) in a way that gives hope to the people of Guatemala that there will be an opportunity for them if they stay home," Harris also told Giammattei during the virtual meeting.

Giammattei agreed on the need to "create hope" in Guatemala. "The Guatemalan government wants to be a partner (of the United States) to address... not only poverty but also the many evils that affect us all," he said. In addition, the president said he looked forward to Harris' visit in June. Many migrants in recent weeks say they were given new hope by Biden's reversal of the hardline immigration policies of his predecessor Donald Trump.

The changes include allowing unaccompanied children to stay and be united with relatives living inside the United States. The number of unaccompanied children detained after crossing the border illegally, or trying to sneak through official entry ports, doubled in March from February to 18,890, according to the CBP. - AFP