Kamala Harris will lead efforts to control the surge of migrants at the southern border, giving the vice president leadership over one of the administration’s most high-profile challenges.
“This new surge we are dealing with now started in the past administration, but it is our responsibility,” President Joe Biden said Wednesday. He added that he could think of “nobody who is better qualified to do this.”
The migration challenge is the first issue Biden has publicly asked Harris to lead, and it’s one he oversaw while serving as vice president under Barack Obama.
Biden’s administration has been facing criticism from both parties over the unaccompanied children and teenagers coming across the U.S.-Mexico border, particularly for the crowded facilities where they are being held.
There are more than 14,000 migrant children in federal care right now.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has acknowledged that the U.S. is “on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years.”
Harris will oversee the administration’s diplomatic efforts with the “Northern Triangle” countries — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — and work with them on both short- and long-term solutions to reduce migration to the United States. Her focus will be addressing the root causes that push people to come to the country.
In an interview with CBS on Wednesday before the announcement, Harris said she and Biden will go down to the border “at some point,” emphasizing that solving the problem will not happen overnight.
“Look, we’ve been in office less than 100 days,” she said. “We are addressing it. We’re dealing with it. But it’s going to take some time. And are we frustrated? Are you frustrated? Yes, we are.”
“She comes into this partnership with the goals of trying to enhance prosperity, combat corruption and strengthen good governance and the rule of law. And those are the goals of the countries themselves,” an administration official told reporters.
In March 2020, then-President Donald Trump invoked Title 42, a provision from a 1944 public health law that allowed him to send undocumented immigrants back to their home countries under the pretense of halting the spread of COVID-19.
Biden is continuing Title 42 restrictions for most adults and some families ― a policy being challenged in court ― but he is allowing minors to stay in the U.S. That decision has led to unaccompanied minors being detained at the border as they await room in shelters or being placed with their family or sponsors in the United States.
Mayorkas said Sunday that migrants should not be coming to the country without documentation ― but that the Biden administration would not be returning to the Trump policy of sending back children.
“The border is closed,” he said. “We are expelling families. We are expelling single adults. And we’ve made a decision that we will not expel young, vulnerable children. I think we are executing on our plans. And quite frankly, when we are finished doing so, the American public will look back on this and say we secured our border and we upheld our values and our principles as a nation.”