Harris said that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is President Joe Biden’s designated appointee for migration issues at the border, and that her purview is the sources of migration from Central America.
Since Biden took office in January, increases that began in President Donald Trump’s final year have skyrocketed. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recorded nearly 170,000 encounters with migrants on the southern border in March, its highest count in 20 years, according to CBP.
The same month, the number of unaccompanied children attempting to cross the border set a record, according to CBP. Biden and Harris have received a wave of criticism from GOP lawmakers over the crisis as well as calls to travel to the border amid the scenes of children in overcrowded detention centers.
Harris’ role as a liaison between the U.S. and the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras—nations plagued by violence—involves working with their governments to strengthen their own border security. She said in a press briefing that the development of a long-term strategy that addresses the systemic problems driving emigration from these regions will not be an overnight solution.
“We have to figure out how to assess our impact,” she said. “It will not be obvious overnight.”
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
Harris told reporters Wednesday that she was “looking forward to traveling, hopefully as my first trip, to the Northern Triangle,” with stops in Mexico and Guatemala planned. She said she would go as soon as possible, depending on restrictions put in place for the pandemic.
It’s a decision that’s certain to fuel criticism from Republicans that the Biden administration isn’t doing enough to address the large increase in migration at the border.
Biden has dispatched a number of top aides to evaluate the situation at the border instead.
Indeed, Republican lawmakers returning from a border trip blamed the Biden administration for the problems, arguing for a return to Trump-era policies. They said the president and vice president need to go to the border to see firsthand the migrant surge.
“He can stop this today,” said House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). “Vice President Harris needs to go down to the border and see this for herself.”
The increase in migration to the U.S. has become one of Biden’s biggest challenges in the early months of his administration.
“The work we have to do is going to require a commitment that is continuous, that we institutionalize with our partners,” and that includes a long-term strategy in the region, Harris said.
She added: “It will take some time to see the benefits of that work, but it will be worth it.”
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