Vice President Kamala Harris used her first trip to the U.S.-Mexico border on Friday since she took office to call for an end to political “rhetoric” and “pointing fingers” at immigration, an issue that Republicans have been eager to arm against her.
Immigration “cannot be reduced to a political issue,” Harris told reporters. “We are talking about children, families, suffering. And our approach must be thoughtful and effective. “
Under pressure to curb an increase in Central American migrant arrivals, U.S. President Joe Biden appointed Harris in March to lead his administration’s efforts to meet the migratory challenge on the border with Mexico.
Harris’ trip came after months of criticism from Republicans and some from his own party over his absence and that of President Biden from the border at a time when immigration officials have registered a number record of encounters with migrants trying to cross into the United States.
His half-day stop, at which he toured a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center and met with migrant children there, visited a border admission center and held a roundtable with local service providers. using immigration as a political trap against the administration.
Harris defended both the timing of his visit and the choice of El Paso for the stop. Some critics had said the location is too far from the epicenter of border crossings, creating pressure on federal resources. He told reporters after landing in El Paso that he had said in March that he would arrive at the border and that “it was not a new plan.”
Child separation policy
And he said the El Paso election was meant to highlight the shift toward a more humane approach to immigration policy by the Biden administration after the tough stance of former President Donald Trump .
“It is here in El Paso that the previous administration’s child separation policy was unveiled,” he said. He also noted Trump’s policy of “staying in Mexico,” which forced asylum seekers to wait on the other side of the border for their demands to be awarded.
“We have seen the disaster that resulted from here in El Paso,” he said.
Harris visited the region with Homeland Security Secretary Alexander Mayorkas, Texas Democratic Representative Veronica Escobar, and Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, a leading Democratic voice on immigration reform.
Both Mayorkas and Escobar said they invited Harris specifically to the area, and Mayorkas was quick to stress that border security is on his wallet, not that of the vice president.
But Republicans blamed Harris for a trip they ruled out as little more than a photo shoot. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Conservative Republican and top critic of the administration on immigration, accused Biden’s policies of “opening the floodgates to smugglers and drug cartels.”
Although Cruz was pleased to have visited Harris, “if the vice president came to Texas without a concrete plan to secure our border and is unwilling to reverse the immigration policy failures of her administration that led to the crisis, his visit is nothing less than a glorified photo-operation ”.
Regardless of border security
Trump said Friday in an interview with Conservative Newsmax that, “I think it should go to the real part of the border, not to a part of the border that is rarely violated.”
Harris has borne the brunt of Republican attacks on immigration since Biden assigned her to lead the administration’s efforts to address the root causes of U.S. migration from countries such as Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala. He stressed that his focus is on improving the conditions of the residents of these countries through financial and humanitarian aid, to encourage them to stay at home instead of making the trip to the United States.
Republicans have tried to paint the administration as indifferent to border security, trying to reactivate a powerful political weapon against Democrats for the 2022 midterm elections. Trump plans to visit the area less than a week after Harris, and he will surely take advantage of his journey to continue to lead the GOP narrative.
Other administration officials have made several border visits, but the absence of Biden and Harris had left some Democrats worried that the damage had already been done. He worries that the Biden administration has ceded the debate on border security to Republicans.
“The administration makes Democrats look weak,” Texas Democrat Representative Henry Cuellar said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Have I heard, from Democrats and Republicans in my area, what the hell is going on with this administration?”
The Cuellar district spans from southern San Antonio to the U.S.-Mexico border and last year won re-election by the thinnest margin of his nearly two-decade career. While he says he doesn’t care about his re-election, he adds, “I’m worried about my colleagues.”
Register of migrant arrivals
The first months of Biden’s tenure have seen a record number of migrants trying to cross the border. U.S. Customs and Border Protection recorded more than 180,000 encounters on the Mexican border in May, most since last March. The figures were bolstered by a ban on seeking asylum related to the coronavirus pandemic, which encouraged repeated attempts to cross over because the capture had no legal consequences.
Republicans jumped on those numbers to attack Biden and Harris so weak in border security. Administration officials, including Harris, refute the accusation. Harris repeatedly sent a message to migrants during his recent visit to Guatemala: “Don’t come.”
But those comments drew fire from some progressives, especially New York representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who called the message “disappointing.”
It was an incident that highlighted Harris’s political win-win situation, which took on an intractable problem that has frustrated past administrations and which both sides have used to provoke wedges and involvement during the campaign season.
If Biden chooses not to run for a second term, Harris will be seen as the top candidate to replace him, and the immigration issue could become an opportunity to show off his successes or an albatross.
During a meeting with religious organizations as well as legal and reception service providers, Harris said she and Biden “inherited a difficult situation.”
But he stated that “in five months we have made progress … There is still more work to be done, but we have made progress.”