Vice President Kamala Harris visited the southern U.S. border in El Paso, Texas, on Friday, where she once again emphasized that her main goal as immigration czar is to resolve what’s causing Central American migrants to seek refuge to the U.S. in the first place.
Her trip included a tour of an El Paso migrant processing center, a visit to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, and a conversation with five young girls from Central America.
“We are here today to address and to talk about what has brought people to the U.S. border and again to continue to address the root causes that cause people to leave and often flee their home country,” Harris told reporters.
This is her first visit to the U.S.-Mexico border since President Joe Biden tapped her to handle the administration’s immigration policies in March. Though she’s visited Guatemala and Mexico on immigration-focused trips since then, Republican critics have been dogging her to visit the border and accused her of being unfit for the role.
Harris responded to some of that criticism on Friday.
“An important aspect of this visit is leading this visit after the work that we did in Guatemala and Mexico, because as I’ve long said ― I said back in March I was going to come to the border, so this is not a new plan,” she said when a reporter asked why she was making the visit now.
“The reality of it is that we have to deal with causes, and we have to deal with the effects,” she continued. “So being in Guatemala, being in Mexico, talking with Mexico as a partner, frankly, on the issue was about addressing the causes. And then coming to the border ... is about looking at the effects of what we have seen happening in Central America.”
Harris’ visit comes as the Biden administration grapples with soaring numbers of migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — all places where the U.S. has played an integral role in exacerbating inequality and corruption — showing up at the border seeking asylum. More than 180,000 migrants arrived in May, according to Customs and Border Protection, and more than 112,000 were immediately expelled.
“As you all have heard me say many times, I strongly believe that most people don’t want to leave home,” Harris said at a press conference wrapping up her visit, adding that migrants do so because they can’t provide “basic necessities” for their families in their home countries.
“That belief has been reinforced throughout our day today,” she said. “The stories that I heard, the interactions that we had today, reinforced the nature of those lack of economic opportunities ― very often violence, corruption and food insecurity, and basic needs not being met, including the fear of cartels and gangs.”
As more migrants have come to the souther border, the Biden administration has continued a policy instituted under former President Donald Trump that denies asylum on the basis of protecting public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, Harris urged migrants not to try to enter the U.S. right now.
The vice president said Friday that much work still needs to be done to “build a fair and functional and humane immigration system,” adding that Biden’s administration “inherited a tough situation,” thanks to Trump’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents.