Kamala Harris on Tuesday said that climate change was a factor in driving migrants from their home countries to the United States, in her first remarks on the issue – five weeks after being given the job.
Harris was asked by President Joe Biden on March 24 to lead his response to the crisis at the southern border.
It is a job she has assumed with apparent reluctance: she is yet to visit the border, or the region, and Tuesday’s remarks to the Washington Conference on the Americas were her first on the issue.
Harris, in her 13 minute speech, said ‘the lack of climate adaptation and climate resilience’ was one of the factors in the current migrant surge.
‘We want to help people find hope at home, and so we are focused on addressing both the acute factors and the root causes of migration,’ she said, addressing the virtual event.
‘First, the acute factors, the catastrophes that are causing people to leave right now; the hurricanes, the pandemic, the drought, and extreme food insecurity.
‘Then there are the long standing issues, the root causes. I’m thinking of corruption, violence and poverty, the lack of economic opportunity, the lack of climate adaptation and climate resilience, the lack of good governance.’
Vice President Kamala Harris held her first public event on Tuesday as ‘border czar’
Migrant children are seen playing on the Mexico-US border in Tijuana on April 24
Migrants in Tijuana on April 24, awaiting their attempt to cross into the United States
Republicans have argued that wiping out Trump-era policies such as the border wall and Remain In Mexico plan are to blame for the soaring arrivals.
In March the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents encountered more than 172,000 persons attempting entry along the Southwest border – a 71 per cent increase over February 2021, and a 10-year high.
Nearly 19,000 unaccompanied children entered U.S. border custody in March, an all-time monthly high.
April’s figures will be out this week, and are expected to show another increase.
The White House has denied Republican insistence that Biden’s policies are to blame, and has instead doubled down on its emphasis on root causes such as violence and poverty.
‘The United States has announced we will send an additional $310 million to the region,’ she said at the 51st Annual Washington Conference on the Americas on Tuesday
To address this, Harris announced on Tuesday the U.S. is sending millions in aid to Central American countries, as she blamed ‘corrupt’ governments for the surge in migrants.
‘The United States has announced we will send an additional $310 million to the region,’ she said.
The administration plans push Congress to pass a bill sending $4 billion in aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador over the next four years.
‘We want to help people find hope at home,’ Harris said in encouraging people to stay in their home countries.
‘And so we are focused on addressing both the acute factors and the root causes of migration.’
She did not mention the border at all in her speech.
Harris also made clear if ‘corruption’ in the region is not addressed, it could undo any other progress made there.
‘No matter how much effort we put in on curbing violence, on providing disaster relief, on tackling food insecurity, on all of it, we will not make significant progress if corruption in the region persists,’ she said.
Harris flew to Milwaukee after her speech, and then back to Washington, landing in rain (above)
Harris has garnered a lot of criticism from Republicans for not yet visiting the border to see the crisis for herself, but traveling to other parts of the U.S. to tout trillions in spending proposals
Harris added: ‘If corruption persists, history has told us, it will be one step forward and two steps back. And we know, corruption causes government institutions to collapse from within.’
She added the administration ‘believes in the potential of the region.’
‘Eight years ago, President Joe Biden addressed this conference. Then Vice President, he led our nation’s diplomatic efforts within the Northern Triangle and with Mexico,’ she said.
‘Recently, he asked me to take the lead,’ Harris said.
‘This is a priority for our nation— and a role that I take very seriously.’
She continued: ‘We want to pick back up the kind of work President Joe Biden started when he was Vice President.’
Harris departed shortly after her speech for Milwaukee, Wisconsin where she will promote Joe Biden’s proposed $2 trillion American Jobs Plan plan
Harris has held two closed-door meetings with outside experts and philanthropists related to the mass migration crisis at the southern border.
She has not, however, visited the border or before this point held any public remarks or events in her capacity in the five weeks since being named in charge of the crisis.
‘Our Administration is implementing a comprehensive strategy with governments, international institutions, the private sector, foundations, and community organizations,’ she said.
‘The idea here is that our work will be coordinated— and that every sector will have a role to play.’
Harris’ remarks Tuesday came just before she jetted off for a day trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where she will promote the proposed $2 trillion American Jobs Plan plan.
The White House has repeatedly tried to rebrand Harris’ position, claiming she is looking to help fix situations in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to help quell migration to the U.S. by making situations in Central American countries more desirable.
Since she was named ‘border czar’, Harris has traveled to many other places in the U.S. other than the border, where she has touted the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and Biden’s proposed trillions in spending for real and ‘human’ infrastructure development.
This has garnered even more criticism from those on the left who say she isn’t taking her role – or the crisis – seriously.
The White House says it is planning a trip for Harris to visit Guatemala and Mexico this summer, but she will not stop at the border.
Last week, Harris had a bilateral meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei and will meet virtually with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Friday.
This week, the administration also plans to start reuniting families separated under former President Donald Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policies, which led to thousands of children being separated from their families.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a call with reporters on Sunday night that four families of the estimated 1,000 that remain separated will be reunited this week.
Two of the four include mothers – one Mexican and one Honduran – who were separated from their children in 2017.
He described the children as ranging from three-years-old at the time of separation to ‘teenagers who have had to live without their parent during their most formative years.’
The Department of Homeland Security released photos Monday showing near-empty border facilities to tout there has been an 88% drop in the number of unaccompanied minor migrants in CBP custody – with the majority now transferred to Health and Human Services facilities
The same facility shown above on March 30 was overflowing with unaccompanied minors migrants who were apprehended crossing the border without parents or adult family members
Republicans are also furious over President Biden’s plan to send $4 billion in aid to Northern Triangle countries in order to address ‘root causes’ of mass migration.
Two top House Republicans are demanding the Biden administration hand over documents related to the plan, which would send the money over four years to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Representatives James Comer, ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, and Jason Smith, ranking member of the House Budget Committee, wrote a letter to acting Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young calling Biden’s plan ‘naive and misguided.’
‘In the midst of a border crisis propelled by the Biden Administration reversing successful deterrent policies, it is worrisome that the Administration’s solution isn’t to reinstate those policies or replace them with workable solutions, but instead to funnel more money to pay countries to dissuade their citizens to break U.S. laws, particularly countries with corruption concerns,’ they wrote in the letter.
Harris’ remarks Tuesday come as pictures from border facilities released by the DHS Monday show a more optimistic image of the crisis.
The images show the McAllen, Texas holding and processing facility nearly empty, when pictures from the same facility last month showed overflowing pens with children nearly stacked on top of each other on mats on a concrete floor with mylar blankets.
Mayorkas also revealed there was an 88 per cent drop in the number of unaccompanied minor migrants in Customs and Border Protection custody compared to five weeks ago.
These children, for the most part, are likely still in federal custody, just transferred from CBP facilities to Health and Human Services facilities that are better equipped and staffed to handle the cases and work on reunification with their family.
New numbers from over the weekend show only 677 unaccompanied minor migrants remain in CBP facilities compared to March 28, when there were 5,767.
CBP has been able to almost double the rate it processes children and more quickly transfer them to shelters and emergency housing facilities set up by HHS.
Despite the expediting processing, the number of illegal crossings have not slowed.