Vice President Kamala Harris made her first visit as Vice President to the US-Mexico border on Friday, touring immigration facilities and meeting with young women.
Speaking to reporters after her tour, Harris said the border trip increased the need to address the root causes of the surge in undocumented migrants from Central America.
“The lack of economic opportunity, very often violence, corruption and food insecurity,” said Harris, “including fear of cartels and gang violence.”
“The work we have to do is address the root causes or else we will continue to see the effects of what is happening at the border,” she said. “It will, as we have done, require a comprehensive approach that recognizes every part of it.”
Earlier this year, President Joe Biden appointed Harris to work to address these causes. In June, she visited Guatemala and Mexico, where she delivered a blunt message to potential migrants.
“I want to make it clear to people in the region who are considering making this dangerous hike to the US-Mexico border, don’t come. Don’t come,” Harris said at a press conference in Guatemala on June 7th. “I think if you get to our border, you will be rejected.”
Harris had been criticized by Republicans in recent weeks for not having personally visited the US-Mexico border.
The White House said Harris always plans to make the trip at the right time. However, the June 25 election may have been influenced by former President Donald Trump’s announcement on Tuesday to visit the June 30 border with Texas GOP Governor Greg Abbott.
A day after Trump announced his upcoming trip, the White House said Harris would visit the border on June 25. Harris’ trip took the White House press corps by surprise. Typically, West Wing aides brief a small group of reporters at least a week in advance of the President and Vice President’s travel plans to give news agencies time to organize their coverage.
Harris denied on Friday that Trump’s plans had any impact on her schedule.
“I said I was going to the border in March, so this is not a new plan,” Harris told reporters after landing in Texas. “Coming to the border … means looking at the effects of what we’ve seen in Central America.”
However, the White House said El Paso’s choice to visit was actually influenced by the former president. In his 2019 State of the Union address, Trump claimed his border wall had turned El Paso from a criminal city into a safe city that angered residents.
Biden and Harris have been criticized for pulling back on Trump-era restrictive immigration policies, even though immigrant detentions on the U.S.-Mexico border have hit 20-year highs in recent months.
Immigration remains a hot topic for both sides. Democrats and pro-immigrant activists have urged Biden to further reduce enforcement and ensure humane treatment of migrant children and families who arrive at the border.
White House officials have said for months that Harris’ efforts to curb immigration from Central America are diplomatic-centered and distinct from border security issues.
“The Vice President’s trip to Guatemala and Mexico earlier this year was about the causes, and this border visit is about the effects,” their spokesman, Symone Sanders, told reporters on Thursday. “Both trips will influence the government’s cause strategy.”
– Reuters correspondent Nandita Bose contributed to this report.