Harris to Visit US-Mexico Border Area 06/24 06:11
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Vice President Kamala Harris will make her first visit on
Friday to the U.S.-Mexico border since taking office, following criticism from
members of both parties for failing to go earlier despite her role leading the
Biden administration's response to a steep increase in migration.
Harris will visit the El Paso area, accompanied by Homeland Security
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, according to a statement Wednesday from Harris
senior adviser Symone Sanders.
Harris has faced months of criticism from Republicans, and even some
frustration from those in her own party, for not visiting the area.
She was tasked earlier this year by President Joe Biden with taking on the
root causes of migration from Central America to the United States, and so far
she's focused largely on outreach to local leaders and advocacy groups with the
goal of improving economic and living conditions in the region. Harris has said
her goal is to offer residents of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico
hope for their future, so they no longer feel compelled to leave home for
Her aides have repeatedly insisted her efforts are distinct from the
security issues that plague U.S. officials trying to handle a spike in border
crossings. But Republicans have pointed to the failures by both Harris and
Biden to visit the border to paint the administration as absent in a crisis.
Harris will arrive in the area just days before former President Donald
Trump is to visit the border with a group of House Republicans and Texas Gov.
Greg Abbott, and Trump is certain to use the opportunity to drive Republican
attacks on Democrats as soft on immigration.
The border issue shadowed Harris' first foreign trip earlier this month, to
Guatemala and Mexico, where she met with both nations' presidents and local
officials to discuss economic and humanitarian solutions to the significant
outmigration from both countries.
During that trip, she sat for an interview with NBC News in which she
dismissed a question about why she hadn't made a trip to the border by
responding, "I've never been to Europe," and adding, "I don't understand the
point you're making." Harris and White House aides were subsequently forced to
parry repeated questions about the decision and her remarks.
Harris said she was focused on "tangible" results "as opposed to grand
gestures," but she also said she might visit in the near future.
She has noted that as a senator from California, she has visited the border
in the past, and she has asserted that unless the root causes of migration are
addressed the situation there will never be fixed.
It's unclear what Harris' plans include during her visit to the area, but
one migrant detention facility in El Paso, at the Fort Bliss military post, has
drawn criticism from advocates who have described unsafe conditions and
allegations of abuse toward some of the thousands of children housed there.
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the trip was "part
of the coordinated effort between her office, her work, the Department of
Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, to continue to
address the root causes and work in coordination to get the situation under
While Psaki emphasized that border security is under Homeland Security
Secretary Mayorkas' purview, she added that "it's important every component of
our government is coordinated" on the issue.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection recorded more than 180,000 encounters on
the Mexican border in May, the most since March 2000. Those numbers were
boosted by a pandemic-related ban on seeking asylum, which encouraged repeated
attempts to cross the border because getting caught carried no legal
The numbers have led even some centrist Democrats to join Republicans in
their calls for Harris to make a trip to the area. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas
Democrat whose district stretches from south of San Antonio down to the
southern border, wrote a letter to Harris earlier this month inviting her to
"observe the ongoing humanitarian crisis and share the perspective of Americans
who live there."
"I believe it is critical that you meet with local stakeholders and
residents, consider their concerns, and use their lived experiences to
implement more effective policies," he wrote.
Cuellar issued a tweet Wednesday thanking Harris for her plans to visit.
But his engagement on the issue underscores the potential political peril
for Democrats on immigration. An AP-NORC poll conducted in April found that
more Americans disapprove than approve of how Biden is handling the sharply
increasing number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico
And Trump's trip to the border marks another sign of how closely Republicans
continue to align themselves with Trump and the extent to which they see the
border as a winning campaign issue. The former president immediately took
credit for Harris' trip, speculating in a statement that the vice president
would not have made plans to go if he hadn't been headed there himself.
Psaki said the administration "made an assessment within our government
about when it was an appropriate time for her to go the border."