Kamala Harris to visit southern border amid mounting pressure

The vice president will make the visit on Friday

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks with the media at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport before boarding Air Force Two back to Washington on June 18. (Megan Varner/Getty Images)
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks with the media at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport before boarding Air Force Two back to Washington on June 18. (Megan Varner/Getty Images)
Posted June 23, 2021 at 3:33pm

Vice President Kamala Harris will visit the U.S.-Mexico border during a trip Friday to El Paso, Texas, the White House said Wednesday. 

The visit will be Harris’ first to the border since she took office, and Republicans have criticized her for months for not visiting the area sooner despite her role in addressing an influx of migrants from the region.

In March, Harris was tapped by President Joe Biden to handle the administration’s efforts to address the root causes of migration from Central America. The White House cited the upcoming trip as part of that effort.

“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,” said Symone Sanders, a Harris spokeswoman, in a statement. She added that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will accompany Harris on the trip. 

Republicans in Congress have spent much of the spring hammering Harris over her absence at the nation’s southern border, where an influx of unaccompanied migrant children has strained government resources. 

Despite Harris’ “do not come” message earlier this month to would-be migrants in Guatemala, and similar words of caution from Biden and other senior administration officials, historically high numbers of migrants continued to arrive at the border in recent months. 

Unaccompanied children and some families are allowed to enter the country, but most single adults and other families continue to be turned back under a Trump-era public health directive. Republican critics immediately seized on Wednesday’s announcement, questioning why Harris had not visited the border sooner. 

“It took: 600,000 + illegal crossings, 463,000lbs + of drugs seized. Dozens of U.S. Senators and House members traveling to the southern border. And mounting pressure from the American people for Kamala to finally schedule a trip to the border,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wrote on Twitter. 

The vice president hinted at a June 8 news conference in Mexico that a border visit was in the works, although she stressed she had already been to the border in her role as a California senator and prosecutor. 

“Yes, I will,” she said, when asked by a reporter when she would make the trip. “And I have before.”

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., suggested Harris’ visit was scheduled in response to a border visit that former President Donald Trump plans to make next week. 

“The Biden/Harris team could not afford to allow Trump to visit the border first. Great job, President Trump,” Graham tweeted. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki dismissed the suggestion at her news conference on Wednesday, saying that “we have no way to predict” what Trump would say at the border and that the White House did not expect Harris’ trip to alter the former president’s plans. 

Harris’ visit, as well as her wider efforts to address the root causes of migration from Central American nations, are part of the Biden administration’s efforts to undo the Trump administration’s stringent immigration policies. Although bipartisan talks in Congress are ongoing, there’s little chance lawmakers will reach agreement on a widespread overhaul of the nation’s immigration system, as Biden promised during the 2020 presidential campaign. 

[Bipartisan immigration talks thwarted by escalating migration]

The White House has announced plans to provide billions of dollars in aid to Central American nations in order to improve conditions there amid the still-raging pandemic and the aftermath of two hurricanes. 

Harris has stressed it is impossible to alleviate the border situation without first addressing the reasons why migrants choose to make the dangerous journey north. 

“We have to have the ability to address the root causes of why people leave, and we have to understand — if it is a priority to us to be concerned about what is happening at our border, then it must be a priority for us to understand why people leave,” she said at her Mexico City news conference earlier this month.