Vice President Kamala Harris defended her leadership of the Biden administration’s efforts to alleviate the surge of migrants coming to the US on Monday and dismissed calls from conservatives and even Fox News for her to visit the border.
In an interview with NBC Nightly News, Ms Harris was questioned by anchor Lester Holt over why she has not visited the US-Mexico border since taking on the role, and answered defensively, claiming that her team had “been to the border” many times.
“Do you have any plans to visit the border?” Mr Holt asked.
“At some point,” Ms Harris said, throwing her hands up. “This whole thing about the border, we’ve been to the border. We’ve been to the border.”
“You haven’t been to the border,” Mr Holt shot back.
“And I haven’t been to Europe,” she responded, laughing. “I don’t understand the point you’re making.”
As Harris continued, adding that she does not discount the value of personally going to border areas to see the situation for herself, Holt interjected and noted that Republican members of Congress as well as conservatives in the media sphere have criticized her over the issue of not visiting the southern border.
“Well, Republicans have certainly come after you on this,” Mr Holt said, while adding that Congressman Henry Cuellar, a border-state Democrat, had also urged her and President Joe Biden to visit.
“I care about this, and I care about what is happening at the border,” the vice president responded.
“I’m in Guatemala because my focus is dealing with the root causes of migration. There may be some who do not think that is important. But it is my firm belief that if we care about what is happening at the border, we better care about the root causes and address them. So that’s what I’m doing,” said Ms Harris.
Harris’s tenure as the public face of the Biden administration’s efforts to address the migration crisis comes as officials are warning that the southern border is on track to see the most attempted crossings in decades.
She has faced calls from Republicans on Capitol Hill to visit facilities where migrants, particularly unaccompanied minors, are housed by Homeland Security and Health and Human Services personnel. GOP lawmakers have argued that Ms Harris’s lack of visits to such facilities is proof that the Biden administration is not taking the situation seriously.
“She hasn’t even been to our southern border,” said Texas Sen John Cornyn, a Republican, in a Senate floor speech in March, referring to Ms Harris.
“She hasn’t visited the facilities where tens of thousands of migrant children have been cared for, and she hasn’t listened to the migrants’ horrifying stories of how they were treated by the human smugglers that brought them to the border,” added Mr Cornyn.
Experts have noted that the trend roughly follows the typical seasonal migration pattern but is exacerbated by more and more unaccompanied minors heading for the US, which some have claimed is the result of the Biden administration implementing policies aimed at humane treatment of migrant children, which critics have said lead to human traffickers encouraging younger migrants to head north.
In Guatemala and Mexico this week the vice president is set to meet with local officials to address what the Biden administration believes are the main factors driving migrants to the US, including high crime rates, lack of economic opportunities, and corruption in government.
Among those she is meeting is Guatemala’s president, Alejandro Giammattei, who on Monday spelled out his administration’s differences with the US on how to address the migration crisis.
“We are not on the same side of the coin. It is obvious,” Mr Giammattei told CBS News in an interview, adding of the crisis’s causes and how to address them: “We are in agreement on the ‘what,’ which is something. We are in not agreement on the ‘how.’”