Biden 'mixed messaging' lures migrants: Guatemala leader

US Vice President Kamala Harris and Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei deliver a joint press conference in Guatemala City on June 7, 2021
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President Joe Biden's administration is tempting migrants to try to reach the United States through mixed messaging, Guatemala's president said Thursday.

Alejandro Giammattei made the comments to Fox News after meeting this week with Vice President Kamala Harris, who visited Guatemala and Mexico on her first overseas trip as Biden's point person for issues stemming from the busy US-Mexico border.

Harris's visit was part of the Biden administration's promise of a more humane immigration policy -- in contrast to the zero tolerance approach taken by his predecessor Donald Trump.

Biden is allowing unaccompanied children to stay and be united with relatives living inside the United States, while urging undocumented migrants not to come.

But Giammattei said people-smugglers known as "coyotes" in Guatemala and elsewhere in poor, violence-plagued Central America were distorting what he called humanitarian messages from the US to persuade migrants to try to make the dangerous trek to the US-Mexico border.

"Because there they said, 'we are going to encourage family unification.' And the coyotes took children and adolescents to the US, and the border filled up, not just with people from Guatemala. A ton of people," the president said.

Detentions of undocumented migrants, including unaccompanied minors, along the US-Mexico border hit a 15-year high in April, with nearly 180,000 people intercepted, according to the US authorities.

Giammattei praised Harris for stating publicly during her visit to Guatemala that migrants should not travel toward the US because they will not be let in.

"That is a clear message," he said.

"But a lukewarm message will only generate the possibility that it is interpreted wrong," said Giammattei.

dw/ec

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