Blunt message, search for answers mark VP's 1st foreign trip

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to the media, Tuesday, June 8, 2021, at the Sofitel Mexico City Reforma in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

MEXICO CITY – Vice President Kamala Harris came to Latin America to deliver a message rather than clinch some kind of concrete deal.

She bluntly told migrants not to travel to the United States. She spoke of the evils of government corruption that lead to dislocation. She urged nations to increase enforcement at their borders.

She completed the journey without securing any commitments to increase immigration enforcement or expand pathways to legal migration. But she also did so without a significant mistake.

It was her first international trip aboard Air Force Two, and a first step toward establishing herself on a core foreign policy issue — one that has bedeviled American presidents at least since Ronald Reagan.

But as much as the trip offered her a chance to step onto the international stage speaking for the Biden administration on a key issue, it also highlighted the ambiguous nature of the portfolio President Joe Biden has handed her — to address the root causes of the spike in migration at the U.S. border.

Harris came away from her meetings with the Guatemalan and Mexican presidents able to talk about commitments to work more closely with them on economic development and on combating trafficking, smuggling and corruption. But she also faced persistent questions about her decision not to visit the U.S.-Mexico border. Republicans have seized on the fact that neither Biden nor Harris has visited the border to argue that the administration is absent on the issue.

Harris was called out by the Democratic left, too, for using her platform in Guatemala to tell people thinking of fleeing to the U.S. that they should not. “Do not come,” she said, invoking the dangers of the trip as well as the Biden administration’s commitment to border security. “Do not come.”

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York called those comments “disappointing” and noted that it is legal to seek asylum.