Vice President Kamala Harris today jetted off to meet migrants and visit a border patrol facility on the US-Mexico border, following criticism from Republicans that she has been too slow to visit the region.
Harris, 56, boarded an Air Force Two on Friday morning to travel to El Paso, Texas, from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, in her first visit to the US-Mexico border since becoming Vice President five months ago.
Her trip to El Paso was announced on Wednesday and appeared to have been hastily put together days before a visit to the border by former President Donald Trump.
The visit comes after months of criticism from Republicans that she has been too slow to visit the region as part of her role addressing the root causes of immigration, and for her muddied explanations as to why.
Biden’s first few months in office have seen record numbers of migrants attempting to cross the border, with more than 180,000 encounters taking place on the Mexican border in May.
Vice President Kamala Harris (pictured) today finally jetted off to meet migrants and visit a border patrol facility on the US-Mexico border
Harris, 56, boarded an Air Force Two on Friday morning to travel to El Paso, Texas, (pictured) in her first visit to the US-Mexico border since becoming Vice President five months ago
During the trip, Harris will tour a Customs and Border Patrol processing center, hold a conversation with advocates from faith-based organizations, as well as shelter and legal service providers, and deliver remarks.
Harris will be accompanied in El Paso by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee Dick Durbin and Democratic Representative from Texas Veronica Escobar.
Theresa Cardinal Brown, managing director of immigration and cross-border policy for the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank, said many Republicans have embraced the hardline immigration policies of former President Donald Trump as they gear up for US congressional elections in 2022.
‘They believe that is something that can win them seats in 2022, so of course they’re going to play it up,’ she said. ‘They’re going to try to make it an issue.’
Republicans have seized on the absence of both Harris and President Joe Biden from the border to paint the administration as weak on border security, seeking to revive a potent political weapon against Democrats in time for the 2022 midterm elections.
With former President Donald Trump visiting the area less than a week after Harris, Republicans will be watching the vice president’s visit closely for fodder for further attacks.
Her trip to El Paso (pictured today) was announced on Wednesday and appeared to have been hastily put together days before a visit to the border by former President Donald Trump
Harris will be accompanied to El Paso by Democratic Representative from Texas Veronica Escobar (both pictured) and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee Dick Durbin
White House officials, who for months have said Harris’ efforts to stem immigration from Central America are focused on diplomacy and are distinct from the security issues at the border, struck a different tone on Thursday.
‘The Vice President’s trip to Guatemala and Mexico earlier this year was about the root causes, and this border visit is about the effects,’ Harris’ spokesperson, Symone Sanders, said. ‘Both trips will inform the administration’s root causes strategy.’
Harris, who visited the US-Mexico border as a senator and attorney general from California, was assailed by Republicans when she visited Mexico and Guatemala this month as part of her efforts to lower migration from the region into the US.
During the trip, Harris said she would visit the border in the near future but was focused on ‘tangible results’ and ‘opposed to grand gestures’.
A White House official, who did not wish to be named, told Reuters there wasn’t a change in strategy.
‘She has always said she will visit the border but it was more like “when is it the right time”,’ the official said.
The official said Harris’s schedule is not dictated by what former President Donald Trump does, adding: ‘I can assure you we don’t take our cues from the former President.’
The visit (pictured boarding place) comes after months of criticism from Republicans that she has been too slow to visit the region as part of her role addressing the causes of immigration
Republicans seized on the absence of Harris and President Biden from the border to paint the administration as weak on border security. Pictured: Harris speaks to Lt. Col Richard Hulun as she boards plane
Although various administration officials have made multiple visits to the border, the absence of Biden and Harris has left some Democrats worried that damage already has been done.
‘The administration is making Democrats look weak,’ said Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar.
‘I’ve heard, from Democrats and Republicans in my area, what the heck is going on with this administration?’
Cuellar’s district spans from south of San Antonio to the US-Mexico border, and last year he won reelection by the slimmest margin of his nearly two-decade-long career.
While he says he’s not worried about his own re-election fight, he added: ‘I worry about my colleagues.’
Cuellar’s comments reflect a broader concern among some Democrats and immigration activists that the Biden administration has ceded the border security debate to Republicans.
Biden’s first few months in office have seen record numbers of migrants attempting to cross the border.
US 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 coronavirus pandemic-related ban on seeking asylum, which encouraged repeated attempts to cross the border because getting caught carried no legal consequences.
During the trip, Harris (pictured with Lt. Col Richard Hulun boarding plane) will tour a Customs and Border Patrol processing center and hold a conversation with immigrant-rights advocates
With former President Donald Trump visiting the area in less than a week, Republicans will be watching the vice president’s (pictured) visit closely for fodder for further attacks
US Customs and Border Protection recorded more than 180,000 encounters with migrants on the Mexican border in May, the most since March 2000. Pictured: Harris greets Alejandro Mayorkas, Veronica Escobar and Sen. Dick Durbin
Republicans have seized on those figures to attack Biden and Harris as weak on border security, a message the GOP used with success during the 2020 campaign.
Administration officials, including Harris, have sought to push back against that perception, with Harris repeatedly sending the message to migrants during her recent visit to Guatemala: ‘Do not come.’
But those comments drew fire from some progressives, most notably New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who called the message ‘disappointing.’
It was an incident that underscored the political no-win situation Harris finds herself in, taking on an intractable problem that’s bedeviled past administrations and been used by both parties to drive wedges and turnout during campaign season.
If Biden chooses not to run for a second term, Harris will be seen as the leading contender to replace him, and the immigration issue could become either a chance for her to showcase her accomplishments or an albatross.
Indeed, Republicans preemptively hammered Harris over her border visit, with Trump claiming credit for her decision to go.
Harris advisers have been careful to emphasize that her main focus related to immigration is addressing the root causes of migration.
She has been seeking economic and humanitarian solutions to improve conditions for residents of Central and North American countries who flee to the US.
Her aides framed her trip to the border as part of an effort to better understand how to solve the problem.
‘What happens at the border matters, and is directly connected to what is happening in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras,’ said Harris spokeswoman Symone Sanders. ‘It is directly connected to the work of addressing the root causes of migration.’
Harris advisers have emphasized that her focus related to immigration is addressing the root causes of migration. Pictured: Harris greets (L-R) Alejandro Mayorkas, Veronica Escobar and Dick Durbin
Harris will be joined in El Paso by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas (pictured) and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee Dick Durbin
Although various administration officials have made multiple visits to the border, the absence of Biden and Harris has left some Democrats worried that damage already has been done. Pictured: Harris boarding plane with Lt. Col Hulun
Harris had no plans to visit the migrant detention facility at the Fort Bliss military post, which has drawn criticism from advocates who have described unsafe conditions and allegations of abuse toward some of the thousands of children housed there.
Cuellar called her decision to visit El Paso ‘politically safe,’ because, he said, most of the activity at the border happens farther south.
Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a Latino civil rights organization, expressed concerns that Harris’s visit was ‘a day late and a dollar short.’
‘It almost feels like they’re being kind of forced into it by the local communities, as well as the Republicans’ political attacks from the right,’ Garcia said.
But, still, Garcia said he was glad she was going, and expressed optimism that her visit could help the Biden administration correct its course on the immigration issue and show a contrast to the Trump administration’s hardline stance on border security.
‘They should own this, and they should solve it, because it does need a bipartisan solution,’ he said.