News Americas, GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala, Tues. June 8 (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris seemed to pin a lot on her words Monday, hoping to deter migrants from coming to the US.

“Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our borders,” she said at a news conference alongside Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei. “If you come to our border, you will be turned back.”

In her first trip overseas as the US’ first women, Black, Caribbean and Asian Vice-President, responded to Republican criticism against her for not visiting the U.S.-Mexico border and the administration for ignoring what they say is a crisis there. She said she was working on the ground in Guatemala.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks while Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei listens at the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura on on Monday, June 7, 2021. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

“I’m just focused on that kind of work as opposed to grand gestures,” she said.

Harris’ visit came as she also took flak from fellow Democrats like U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who said on Twitter she was disappointed by Harris’s message to migrants.

“Seeking asylum at any U.S. border is a 100% legal method of arrival,” she tweeted. She said the United States has contributed to regime change and destabilization in Latin America for decades. “We can’t help set someone’s house on fire and then blame them for fleeing.

And migrants and pro-migrants advocates demonstrated at the US Consulate in Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico on June 7, 2021 as they asked US government to stop its ‘intervention’ in Mexico and a better treatment for migrants ahead of Harris’ visit today.

The Biden administration on Monday also unveiled details of another task force of prosecutors to combat human smuggling in Central America and Mexico.

Harris also said she had “robust” talks with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on the need to fight corruption to help deter undocumented immigration from Central America to the United States and said a U.S. task force would work with local prosecutors to punish corrupt actors in the region.

The Biden administration has identified corruption as an underlying cause of the poverty and violence driving record numbers of Central Americans to go to the United States

In the build up to Harris’ visit to Guatemala, her first official overseas trip, differences of opinion emerged about the fight against graft, with corruption fighters feted by Washington being criticized by Giammattei. “We had a robust, candid and thorough conversation. The president and I discussed the importance of anti-corruption and the importance of an independent judiciary.”

Washington has criticized the removal of a senior judge from Guatemala’s top court, in what Giammattei has argued was a legitimate process.

The corruption task force has been previously floated, but Harris gave more details, saying it will combine resources from the Justice, State and Treasury departments.

Giammattei defended his own record in fighting corruption, saying he had not been accused of wrongdoing and saying graft was not only a problem faced by politicians. The fight against drug trafficking needed to be an integral part of tackling corruption, he said.

On the immigration front he announced a new processing center for migrants sent back from Mexico and the United States, which could increase capacity. He said the focus of the two countries should be on creating prosperity.

Washington’s push to tackle “root causes” of migration in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have been undermined by a backlash against anti-corruption bodies the United States considers independent but that local elites say are biased.

Harris also confirmed that the United States would supply half a million COVID-19 doses to Guatemala and provide $26 million to fight the pandemic.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Guatemala City; Additional reporting by Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Sonya Hepinstall and Grant McCool)

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