Vice President Kamala Harris defended the timing of her trip to El Paso, Texas, on Friday amid accusations from Republicans that the Biden administration is ignoring what some view as a crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Friday’s visit to the border was Harris’s first since she was put in charge of the Biden administration’s efforts to stem the rising tide of migration in late March. Former President Donald Trump and a number of Republicans will visit the border next week.
“It was always the plan to come here,” Harris told reporters upon arriving in El Paso. She also clarified that while it was her first official visit to the border as vice president, this was “not my first trip. I’ve been to the border many times.”
Earlier this month, Harris received backlash for taking her first foreign trip to Guatemala and Mexico, where she discussed new initiatives to stem the flow of migrants, before visiting the southern border.
Harris explained that the decision to meet with leaders in Guatemala and Mexico before a border visit was an effort to first address the factors leading to migration — such as corruption and lack of economic opportunities — before engaging with its impact.
“Coming to the border ... is about looking at the effects of what we have seen happening in Central America,” she said.
The White House has framed Harris’s role as a largely diplomatic one, focused on tackling the root causes of migration from Mexico and the so-called Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador), whose citizens make up a large portion of asylum seekers arriving at the southern border.
Since taking on this assignment, Harris has faced criticism from Republicans and some Democrats, who feel she should be focused more on the immediate challenges at the border. Already this spring, officials there encountered a record number of migrants, including unaccompanied children, attempting to cross the border.
When previously asked about the vice president’s absence at the border, aides explained that she is juggling a stuffed portfolio, tasked not only with curbing migration but also with expanding national access to voting, advocating on behalf of labor unions and chairing the National Space Council, among other assignments. When pressed by NBC’s Lester Holt on her lack of travel to the U.S.-Mexico border, Harris responded, now infamously, “and I haven’t been to Europe.”
Early last week, over 50 House Republicans wrote a letter to Biden urging him to remove Harris from her role heading the migration crisis due to her lack of public engagement.
“This country cannot afford another minute of inaction from Vice President Harris,” they wrote. “While you have publicly defended the Vice President, even you must be discouraged with her inaction.”
Without addressing her Republican critics directly, Harris called for a stop to “the rhetoric and finger-pointing” during a press conference in El Paso, and insisted that the situation at the border “cannot be reduced to a political issue.”
“We’re talking about children, we’re talking about families, we’re talking about suffering, and our approach has to be thoughtful and effective,” Harris said. She said Friday’s visit, which included a meeting with five young girls who’d recently crossed the border at a CBP processing center, reaffirmed what she’d learned during her visits to Mexico and Guatemala about why people are fleeing their homes in the first place.
“You can’t just react to a problem without solving it at its roots,” she said.
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