Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei said the Biden administration’s “confusing” messaging on migration allowed cartels to ramp up their human smuggling operations.
“I’m nobody to make a judgment here, but I believe in the first weeks in the Biden administration, messages were confusing,” Giammattei said in an interview with MSNBC that aired on Tuesday. “They were compassionate messages that were understood by people in our country, especially to coyotes [border smugglers] to tell families, ‘We’ll take the children, the children can go in, and once they’re there, the children can call their parents.’”
The Central American leader clarified that the “messages were confusing, not because of the way they were communicated but because of the way they were translated here.”
Giammattei said he’s particularly concerned about the unprecedented wave of unaccompanied migrant children, a large proportion of which hails from Guatemala, that has flooded U.S. facilities as President Joe Biden and his administration scramble to open alternative facilities. He added that many who choose to cross the southern border may find themselves in the hands of “prostitution networks” and other criminal enterprises.
“So a huge wave of migrant unaccompanied children starts, that’s a matter of concern because as soon as they cross the border between Mexico and the U.S., they fall into the hands of cartels for prostitution networks and so on,” Giammattei said.
“Expectations were created that with the government of President Biden, there would be a better treatment of migrants. And this has caused Central American migrants, and also from our country, wanting to cross the border, thinking that it is easier to do so,” Obrador said during his daily news conference in late March.
Obrador, who has referred to Biden as the “migrant president,” announced nearly 9,000 army and national guard troops were deployed to the nation’s border with the United States to cope with the influx of migrants around the time of his statements.
Giammattei said he has seen “inhumane behavior” at the border and referenced one incident in which authorities recovered a 6-month-old girl that was thrown from a raft by smugglers on the Rio Grande River. He also mentioned another in which a pair of toddlers were hurled over a 14-foot wall and abandoned by criminals.
The Biden administration has faced bipartisan backlash for its handling of the surge. The federal government has opened over a dozen alternate facilities for migrant children in the U.S., and Immigration and Customs Enforcement has resorted to sending families into hotels, a move that has been widely criticized for its taxpayer expense.
The Homeland Security Department recently released figures showing that more than 172,000 people attempted to cross the border from Mexico illegally in the month of March, the highest single-month total in 15 years.
Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to the Northern Triangle in Central America to discuss the root causes of the surge in migration at the U.S.-Mexico border, a trip announced as Republicans question her role on the matter. Harris said the visit would include stops in Mexico and Guatemala.