Vice President Kamala Harris is heading to the U.S.-Mexico border this week, amid an unrelenting chorus of criticism from Republicans over her failure to visit there.
Harris, who was tasked by President Joe Biden to lead diplomatic efforts to stem the flow of migrants arriving on the southern border, will visit El Paso, Texas, on Friday, according to sources familiar with the trip. She will be accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Symone Sanders, the vice president’s senior adviser and chief spokesperson, confirmed the trip in a statement, saying, Earlier this year, the President asked the Vice President to oversee our diplomatic efforts to address the root causes of migration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. As a part of this ongoing work, the Vice President traveled to Guatemala and Mexico earlier this month and will travel to El Paso on Friday.
Harris and her team have repeatedly pushed back against criticism that neither she nor the president have gone to visit the U.S.-Mexico border, arguing that she is more focused on tackling the destabilizing conditions that are causing thousands of migrants from Central America to head to the border seeking refuge. That was the central message during her first foreign trip, a two-day visit to Mexico and Guatemala earlier this month. While there, Harris met with local officials and implored migrants not to make the journey across Mexico into the United States.
Her trip, however, was complicated by continued questions over whether she would go to the border to view the situation there. Harris’ response — in which she downplayed the need and noted that she also hadn’t visited Europe — only amplified the criticism.
Harris’ border visit comes just days before former President Donald Trump is set to travel to the border, where he will be joined by Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott and a group of House Republicans. Shortly after the news of Harris’ visit began circulating, Trump released a statement claiming that if he and Abbott weren’t going there next week, she would have never gone!
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was one of many Republican lawmakers to pile on Harris for announcing the trip, with Cruz echoing Trump’s assertion that the vice president was merely trying to get out in front of the former president’s upcoming visit. Suddenly President Trump is going to the border and they realized, ‘Oh crap, we got to do something,’ Cruz told Fox News.
But White House press secretary Jen Psaki argued that Harris’ trip was simply a part of her broader mandate to address the root causes of the increase in migration. At a White House press briefing, Psaki also noted to reporters that she had said here from this podium — and [Harris] has also said — that, when it was the right time, [Harris] may go to visit the border.
The number of migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border has soared in the months since the Biden administration took office. In May, more than 180,000 migrants were apprehended at the border, according to monthly figures from Customs and Border Protection.
Of those, the majority — more than 112,000 — were almost immediately expelled. That’s because the Biden administration has continued to use Title 42, a public health order former Trump invoked in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic to kick out migrants without letting them seek asylum.
The U.S. has also seen a record number of unaccompanied children taken into custody under the Biden administration. More than 18,800 unaccompanied children crossed the border in March, according to CBP figures; the highest monthly number previously recorded was more than 11,000 children who crossed the border in May 2019. The number of child arrivals has steadily decreased in April and May but remains well above that 2019 record.
Much of the political focus on the U.S. southern border has dissipated in recent weeks. However, Biden continues to grapple with the longstanding political and logistical challenges of handling an increased number of migrant arrivals. Republicans have zeroed in on the increased number of migrants heading to the border as a line of attack against the Biden administration, repeatedly calling it the Biden border crisis.
They’ve also slammed Harris, specifically, for not visiting the border after Biden tasked her with leading diplomatic efforts to address root causes of migration, a job Biden had as vice president during the Obama administration. During a press conference with the Guatemalan president earlier this month, Harris dismissed the criticism, saying her visit to the region was focused on finding ways to address irregular migration in a way that is significant, is tangible and has real results.
And I will continue to be focused on that kind of work, as opposed to grand gestures, Harris said in Guatemala City.
But by the end of the trip, after repeated criticism for her answer to questions around her visiting the border, Harris had pledged to visit the border soon.