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Kamala Harris speaks during a joint press conference with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on June 7. Photo: Johan Ordonez/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. will create a "smuggling and human trafficking task force" to crack down on human smuggling in Central America, the Biden administration said Monday as Vice President Harris visited Guatemala.

Why it matters: Harris discussed the task force on her first foreign trip as vice president. The trip is part of the administration's efforts to shore up diplomatic ties with Latin America and continue to address the surge of migration into the U.S. from the Southern border.

The big picture: Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that with the launch of the new task force on human trafficking, the U.S. was combining "investigative, prosecutorial, and capacity-building efforts of both the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security."

  • "Our focus will remain on disrupting and dismantling smuggling and trafficking networks that abuse, exploit, or endanger migrants, pose national security threats, and are involved in organized crime," he added. "Together, we will combat these threats where they originate and operate.”

What she's saying: Speaking at a press conference in Guatemala, Harris said she and Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei had a "robust, candid and thorough conversation” about the underlying causes of migration.

  • "The underlying reason for so much of what we are seeing in terms of this level and type of corruption is about profit. It is about profit without concern for the damage it creates to real human life, to families, to children, to communities," Harris said.
  • "I want to emphasize that the goal of our work is to help Guatemalans find hope at home," she added.
  • "At the same time, I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States—Mexico border: Do not come. Do not come."

Harris also announced a number of initiatives the U.S. will undertake in the Guatemala, including:

  • The launch of a young women's empowerment initiative, intended to "increase education and economic opportunities for girls and women," said Harris.
  • Increased investment in Guatemalan agri-business as well as investment in "affordable housing and supporting entrepreneurs."

Go deeper

Updated Jun 7, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Kamala Harris arrives in Guatemala for first foreign trip as VP

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris meeting with Foreign Minister of Guatemala Pedro Brolo after her arrival at the La Aurora airport in Guatemala City, Guatemala, on Sunday. Photo: Josue Decavele/Getty Images

Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in Guatemala Sunday, after a technical issue forced her first plane to return to Joint Base Andrews some 30 minutes into her first international trip since taking office, per White House pool reports.

Why it matters: Harris is touring Guatemala and Mexico as part of the Biden administration's efforts to address the surge of migration into the U.S. from the Southern border.

Crocodiles, snakes and bodies: Migrants' path through Panama

A migrant carrying a baby crosses the Chucunaque River after walking for five days in the Darién Gap on the border of Panama and Colombia. Photo: Luis Acosta/ AFP via Getty Images

Panama is struggling to handle a surge of migrants crossing the deadly jungles of the Darién Gap separating the country from Colombia — many bound for the U.S., government officials, migration experts and members of Congress tell Axios.

Why it matters: Vice President Kamala Harris departed Sunday on her first trip to Central America after being tasked with the migration crisis. Most migrants reaching the U.S. border still hail from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador. But more people than before from farther-flung points are fleeing their homes and trying to enter the U.S.

Updated 41 mins ago - Health

White House acknowledges U.S. will miss July 4 vaccination goal

Fireworks in New York City to celebrate the state reaching a 70% vaccination rate. Photo: Liao Pan/China News Service via Getty Images

The Biden administration acknowledged on Tuesday that it will likely miss its goal of vaccinating 70% of U.S. adults with at least one dose by July 4.

Why it matters: Despite falling short of the goal, the White House still believes most Americans will be safe to fully celebrate Independence Day, as COVID-19 cases and deaths remain at low levels throughout much of the country.