Following four years of border crackdowns, endless legal fights and racially charged rhetoric by President Donald Trump, immigration advocates had hopes that the new Democratic administration would bring a more compassionate and open-armed approach to immigration, particularly toward asylum seekers fleeing troubled Central America.
But when Vice President Kamala Harris gave a high-profile speech Monday in Guatemala, in which she told would-be immigrants from Central America “do not come” to the United States, her words instantly provoked ripples of anger and concern among immigrant rights groups and progressives.
Many took to social media and the airwaves condemning Harris’ blunt rhetoric as “disappointing” and “tone-deaf.” Among the critics was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who defended the rights of asylum seekers and lambasted decades of U.S. foreign policy for “contributing to regime change and destabilization in Latin America.”
Among some recent Central American immigrants, the reaction to Harris’ hard-edged statement was eye-rolling surprise.
Luz, a Honduran asylum seeker who is currently living in New Mexico, said that Harris’ stern warning probably won’t change the minds of hopeful migrants.
“They aren’t going to listen to her,” said Luz, who fled a working-class neighborhood in San Pedro Sula, one of the hemisphere’s most violent cities, and asked that her full identify not be made public because of gang threats against her life.
“It’s not like people want to leave. People are desperate because of poverty or because of the violence and corruption in these countries.”
Luz, a lesbian, said she was harassed at school and raped on several occasions by gang members because of her sexual identity.
“We all have the right to a better life,” she said. “And, believe me, in Honduras … for people like me, it’s not a good life.”
Suyapa Portillo Villeda, an associate professor of Chicana/o Latina/o Transnational Studies at Pitzer College, tweeted at Harris, calling her comments tone-deaf.