Vice President Kamala Harris today jetted off to meet migrants and visit a border patrol facility on the US-Mexico border, following criticism from Republicans that she has been too slow to visit the region.
Harris, 56, boarded Air Force Two on Friday morning to travel to El Paso, Texas, from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, in her first visit to the US-Mexico border since becoming Vice President five months ago.
Her trip to El Paso was announced on Wednesday and appeared to have been hastily put together days before a visit to the border by former President Donald Trump.
The visit comes after months of criticism from Republicans that she has been too slow to visit the region as part of her role addressing the root causes of immigration, and for her muddied explanations as to why.
Biden’s first few months in office have seen record numbers of migrants attempting to cross the border, with more than 180,000 encounters taking place on the Mexican border in May.
Harris’ trip has already faced criticism because she is going to El Paso and not the Rio Grande, which is where a large majority of the crossings take place.
Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn tweeted on Friday morning: ‘Vice President Harris is traveling 2000 miles today to El Paso, about 700 miles from the Rio Grande Valley, the epicenter of the crisis. Of the 2,000 mile US-Mexico border, the Texas-US border is about 1,200 miles.’
Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar says Harris has opted for a ‘politically safe trip’ and is going 800 miles from the crossings ‘epicenter’.
‘I’m sure her planners told her that if you’re going to go down to the border, go to something that’s safer to go to, that is, politically safer,’ Cuellar told Fox News.
‘The epicenter is down there in the Lower Rio Grande, the lower part of my district down there. If you look at the numbers that are down there compared to El Paso, you’re not going to get a true picture of what’s happening.’
According to Border Patrol statistics, the Rio Grande Valley has seen nearly two-and-a-half times more illegal crossings than in El Paso.
Agents in the Rio Grande Valley apprehended 271,927 people, compared to 113,824 in El Paso, in May, the data says.
Harris, 56, boarded Air Force Two at 6am on Friday morning to travel to El Paso, Texas, (pictured) in her first visit to the US-Mexico border since becoming Vice President five months ago
Harris walks with Lt. Col Richard Hulun, 89th Maintenance Group Deputy, after stepping off Marine One on the way to Air Force Two for her trip to El Pas
Harris is visiting the El Paso processing center during her border trip. According to Border Patrol statistics, the Rio Grande Valley has seen nearly two-and-a-half times more illegal crossings than in El Paso
Former President Trump has already claimed credit for her decision to go while Republicans have preemptively hammered Harris over her border visit.
During the trip, Harris will tour a Customs and Border Patrol processing center, hold a conversation with immigrant-rights advocates and deliver remarks.
Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn tweeted on Friday morning: ‘Vice President Harris is traveling 2000 miles today to El Paso, about 700 miles from the Rio Grande Valley, the epicenter of the crisis. Of the 2,000 mile US-Mexico border, the Texas-US border is about 1,200 miles’
Harris will be joined in El Paso by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee Dick Durbin and Democratic Representative from Texas Veronica Escobar.
Republicans have seized on the absence of both Harris and President Joe Biden from the border to paint the administration as weak on border security, seeking to revive a potent political weapon against Democrats in time for the 2022 midterm elections.
Theresa Cardinal Brown, managing director of immigration and cross-border policy for Washington-based think tank Bipartisan Policy Center, said many Republicans have embraced the hardline immigration policies of former President Donald Trump.
‘They believe that is something that can win them seats in 2022, so of course they’re going to play it up,’ she said. ‘They’re going to try to make it an issue.’
Agents in the Rio Grande Valley apprehended 271,927 people, compared to 113,824 in El Paso, in May, the data says
Her trip to El Paso (pictured today) was announced on Wednesday and appeared to have been hastily put together days before a visit to the border by former President Donald Trump
Harris will be accompanied to El Paso by Democratic Representative from Texas Veronica Escobar (both pictured) and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee Dick Durbin
As former President Trump, 75, is due to visit the same after in less than a week, Republicans will be watching Harris’ visit closely for fodder for further attacks.
Harris, who previously visited the US-Mexico border as a senator and attorney general from California, was assailed by Republicans when she visited Mexico and Guatemala this month as part of efforts to lower migration from the region to the US.
During the trip, Harris said she would visit the US-Mexico border in the near future but was focused on ‘tangible results’ and ‘opposed to grand gestures’.
On Thursday, White House officials said Harris’ trip earlier this year was about ‘root causes’ of migration while her border trip is about the ‘effects’ of immigration.
Harris’ spokesperson, Symone Sanders said: ‘The Vice President’s trip to Guatemala and Mexico earlier this year was about the root causes, and this border visit is about the effects.
‘Both trips will inform the administration’s root causes strategy.’
For months, officials have said Harris’ efforts to stem immigration from Central America are focused on diplomacy and are distinct from the security issues at the border.
But a White House official, who did not wish to be named, told Reuters that there wasn’t a change in strategy, despite the latest comments on Thursday.
‘She has always said she will visit the border but it was more like “when is it the right time”,’ the official said.
The official also said Harris’s schedule is not dictated by what former President Donald Trump does, adding: ‘I can assure you we don’t take our cues from the former President.’
The visit (pictured boarding place) comes after months of criticism from Republicans that she has been too slow to visit the region as part of her role addressing the causes of immigration
Republicans seized on the absence of Harris and President Biden from the border to paint the administration as weak on border security. Pictured: Harris speaks to Lt. Col Richard Hulun as she boards plane
Harris greets Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas at the steps of Air Force Two ahead of her highly anticipated trip to Texas
Although various administration officials have visited to the border, the absence of Biden and Harris has left some Democrats worried that damage has already been done.
‘The administration is making Democrats look weak,’ said Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar.
‘I’ve heard, from Democrats and Republicans in my area, what the heck is going on with this administration?’
Cuellar’s district spans from south of San Antonio to the US-Mexico border, and last year he won re-election by the slimmest margin of his nearly two-decade-long career.
While he said he is not worried about his own upcoming re-election fight, he added: ‘I worry about my colleagues.’
His comments reflect a broader concern among some Democrats and immigration activists that the Biden administration has ceded the border security debate to Republicans.
Biden’s first few months in office have seen record numbers of migrants attempting to cross the border.
US Customs and Border Protection recorded more than 180,000 encounters on the Mexican border in May, the most since March 2000.
Those numbers were boosted by a Covid pandemic-related ban on seeking asylum, which encouraged repeated attempts to cross the border because getting caught carried no legal consequences.
During the trip, Harris (pictured with Lt. Col Richard Hulun boarding plane) will tour a Customs and Border Patrol processing center and hold a conversation with immigrant-rights advocates
With former President Donald Trump visiting the area in less than a week, Republicans will be watching the vice president’s (pictured) visit closely for fodder for further attacks
US Customs and Border Protection recorded more than 180,000 encounters with migrants on the Mexican border in May, the most since March 2000. Pictured: Harris greets Alejandro Mayorkas, Veronica Escobar and Sen. Dick Durbin
Republicans have seized on those figures to attack Biden and Harris as weak on border security, a message the GOP used with success during the 2020 campaign.
Administration officials, including Harris, have sought to push back against that perception, with Harris repeatedly sending the message ‘do not come’ to migrants during her recent visit to Guatemala.
But those comments drew fire from some progressives, most notably New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who called the message ‘disappointing’.
It underscored the political no-win situation Harris finds herself in while tackling immigration, a problem that’s bedeviled past administrations and been used by both parties to drive wedges and turnout during campaign season.
If Biden chooses not to run for a second term, Harris will be seen as the leading contender, and the immigration issue could become a chance for her to showcase her accomplishments or an albatross.
Harris advisers have been careful to emphasize that her main focus related to immigration is addressing the root causes of migration.
She has been seeking economic and humanitarian solutions to improve conditions for residents of Central and North American countries who flee to the US.
Her aides have framed her trip to the border as part of an effort to better understand how to solve the problem.
‘What happens at the border matters, and is directly connected to what is happening in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras,’ said Harris spokeswoman Symone Sanders. ‘It is directly connected to the work of addressing the root causes of migration.’
Harris advisers have emphasized that her focus related to immigration is addressing the root causes of migration. Pictured: Harris greets (L-R) Alejandro Mayorkas, Veronica Escobar and Dick Durbin
Harris will be joined in El Paso by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas (pictured) and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee Dick Durbin
Although various administration officials have made multiple visits to the border, the absence of Biden and Harris has left some Democrats worried that damage already has been done. Pictured: Harris boarding plane with Lt. Col Hulun
Harris had no plans to visit the migrant detention facility at the Fort Bliss military post, which has drawn criticism from advocates who have described unsafe conditions and allegations of abuse toward some of the thousands of children housed there.
Cuellar called her decision to visit El Paso ‘politically safe,’ because, he said, most of the activity at the border happens farther south.
Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a Latino civil rights organization, expressed concerns that Harris’s visit was ‘a day late and a dollar short.’
‘It almost feels like they’re being kind of forced into it by the local communities, as well as the Republicans’ political attacks from the right,’ Garcia said.
But, Garcia said he was glad she was going, and expressed optimism that her visit could help the Biden administration correct its course on the immigration issue and show a contrast to the Trump administration’s hardline stance on border security.
‘They should own this, and they should solve it, because it does need a bipartisan solution,’ he said.
Biden insists Kamala has done a ‘GREAT JOB’ at the border ‘so far’ ahead of her trip today – even though she hasn’t visited as VP
Joe Biden praised Kamala Harris on Thursday for her work ‘at the border’ just two days ahead of her first trip there as criticism mounts over her failure to visit the U.S.-Mexico border in her first 90 days in charge of the crisis.
‘Mr. President, what are you hoping the Vice President can do at the border tomorrow?’ a reporter asked Biden at the end of short remarks on infrastructure followed by a press conference on Thursday.
‘She’s done a great job so far,’ Biden said with Harris by his side as he walked halfway out of the room.
‘And the reason why it’s important that she go down, she’s now set up the criteria – having spoken with the president of Mexico and Guatemala, visited the region – to know what we need to do,’ he added.
Harris will take her first trip to survey the southern border between the U.S. and Mexico on Friday – even though she was named ‘border czar’ by the White House in March.
The vice president traveled to Guatemala and Mexico earlier this month to address ‘root causes’, but received a slew of backlash from both parties for making a joke of not yet going to the border during her trip.
Harris announced her trip on Wednesday. She will visit El Paso, Texas with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
She will beat Donald Trump to the region by five days, even though the former president announced his trips eight days before Harris did her’s.
Harris on Friday will make her first trip to the border since Biden put her in charge of the crisis in March
President Joe Biden (left) said Thursday that he thinks Vice President Kamala Harris (right) has done a ‘great job’ addressing the border crisis – even though she has not yet visited the region
This chart shows how 2021 border crossings – pictured in blue – rocketed on crossings made in 2020, represented by the brown line (2018 is pictured in gray, with 2019 in orange)
This graph shows the number of migrants caught by the Office of Field Operation (OFO) and US Border Patrol agents in April and May