Harris to Visit US-Mexico Border Area 06/24 06:11

Harris to Visit US-Mexico Border Area  06/24 06:11

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Vice President Kamala Harris will make her first visit on 
Friday to the U.S.-Mexico border since taking office, following criticism from 
members of both parties for failing to go earlier despite her role leading the 
Biden administration's response to a steep increase in migration.

   Harris will visit the El Paso area, accompanied by Homeland Security 
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, according to a statement Wednesday from Harris 
senior adviser Symone Sanders.

   Harris has faced months of criticism from Republicans, and even some 
frustration from those in her own party, for not visiting the area.

   She was tasked earlier this year by President Joe Biden with taking on the 
root causes of migration from Central America to the United States, and so far 
she's focused largely on outreach to local leaders and advocacy groups with the 
goal of improving economic and living conditions in the region. Harris has said 
her goal is to offer residents of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico 
hope for their future, so they no longer feel compelled to leave home for 
better opportunities.

   Her aides have repeatedly insisted her efforts are distinct from the 
security issues that plague U.S. officials trying to handle a spike in border 
crossings. But Republicans have pointed to the failures by both Harris and 
Biden to visit the border to paint the administration as absent in a crisis.

   Harris will arrive in the area just days before former President Donald 
Trump is to visit the border with a group of House Republicans and Texas Gov. 
Greg Abbott, and Trump is certain to use the opportunity to drive Republican 
attacks on Democrats as soft on immigration.

   The border issue shadowed Harris' first foreign trip earlier this month, to 
Guatemala and Mexico, where she met with both nations' presidents and local 
officials to discuss economic and humanitarian solutions to the significant 
outmigration from both countries.

   During that trip, she sat for an interview with NBC News in which she 
dismissed a question about why she hadn't made a trip to the border by 
responding, "I've never been to Europe," and adding, "I don't understand the 
point you're making." Harris and White House aides were subsequently forced to 
parry repeated questions about the decision and her remarks.

   Harris said she was focused on "tangible" results "as opposed to grand 
gestures," but she also said she might visit in the near future.

   She has noted that as a senator from California, she has visited the border 
in the past, and she has asserted that unless the root causes of migration are 
addressed the situation there will never be fixed.

   It's unclear what Harris' plans include during her visit to the area, but 
one migrant detention facility in El Paso, at the Fort Bliss military post, has 
drawn criticism from advocates who have described unsafe conditions and 
allegations of abuse toward some of the thousands of children housed there.

   On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the trip was "part 
of the coordinated effort between her office, her work, the Department of 
Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, to continue to 
address the root causes and work in coordination to get the situation under 
control."

   While Psaki emphasized that border security is under Homeland Security 
Secretary Mayorkas' purview, she added that "it's important every component of 
our government is coordinated" on the issue.

   U.S. 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 pandemic-related ban on seeking asylum, which encouraged repeated 
attempts to cross the border because getting caught carried no legal 
consequences.

   The numbers have led even some centrist Democrats to join Republicans in 
their calls for Harris to make a trip to the area. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas 
Democrat whose district stretches from south of San Antonio down to the 
southern border, wrote a letter to Harris earlier this month inviting her to 
"observe the ongoing humanitarian crisis and share the perspective of Americans 
who live there."

   "I believe it is critical that you meet with local stakeholders and 
residents, consider their concerns, and use their lived experiences to 
implement more effective policies," he wrote.

   Cuellar issued a tweet Wednesday thanking Harris for her plans to visit.

   But his engagement on the issue underscores the potential political peril 
for Democrats on immigration. An AP-NORC poll conducted in April found that 
more Americans disapprove than approve of how Biden is handling the sharply 
increasing number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico 
border.

   And Trump's trip to the border marks another sign of how closely Republicans 
continue to align themselves with Trump and the extent to which they see the 
border as a winning campaign issue. The former president immediately took 
credit for Harris' trip, speculating in a statement that the vice president 
would not have made plans to go if he hadn't been headed there himself.

   Psaki said the administration "made an assessment within our government 
about when it was an appropriate time for her to go the border."

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