Vice President Kamala Harris used her Friday visit to the border to claim the Biden administration had made progress handling the surge in migrants attempting to reach the United States but said little on how the White House intends to halt the flow — or even slow it down.
She praised efforts to speed processing times for newly arrived migrants and touted her work targeting the factors driving people to leave their home countries in record numbers.
“I am meeting with a lot of folks, and the work that we have begun is the work that is going to be ongoing,” Harris said, with long-term investment in the Western Hemisphere a crucial component.
Tasked with forging a diplomatic solution to the surge, Harris met with leaders in Mexico and Guatemala this month. She announced private-sector investments in the region in a bid to boost economic opportunity as well as aid to groups working to fight corruption. Both problems are viewed by administration officials as major drivers of migration.
As they work to quell these medium- and long-term drivers, hundreds of thousands of migrants continued to make their way northward to the U.S.
In May, more than 180,000 people were apprehended after crossing the southern border, according to federal data, a spike that has been trending upward.
Harris said consistent engagement from Washington would be needed to secure results.
“We have a responsibility, and if we ignore that responsibility, it will visit itself upon us in a very domestic way,” she said.
As for handling the domestic component, Harris, standing with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Illinois Sen. and Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, and Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar, urged lawmakers to act.
The vice president said a path to citizenship for people who have entered the country illegally was a priority.
“We need immigration reform in our country,” Harris said.
“This issue cannot be reduced to a political issue. We’re talking about children. We’re talking about families. We’re talking about suffering,” she continued, urging lawmakers to “stop the rhetoric and the finger-pointing” and move.
Still, Harris said little about plans to stem the record flow.
More than 1 million migrants have been apprehended while attempting to reach the U.S. from Mexico this fiscal year, according to preliminary federal data, with no slowdown expected.
The Biden administration, which has continued a Trump-era policy of immediately deporting single adults, may also soon need to find a way to process these arrivals.
This Title 42 public health rule is facing a legal challenge as the coronavirus pandemic wanes.
Republicans have seized on the increase, urging the White House to present a full-throated response.
Lawmakers have questioned the decision to visit El Paso, which sits hundreds of miles from the border regions where the crisis is most acute.
On Friday, Mayorkas took the rap, telling reporters aboard Air Force Two that he made the call.
“It is one of the busiest sectors” of the border, he said, and would lend the vice president “an opportunity to see the full array” of challenges handled by his department.
Asked about the timing of the visit, the White House has touted its work in standing up immigration processing systems that officials said atrophied under the leadership of former President Donald Trump.
“The president and I are absolutely committed to ensuring that our immigration system is orderly and humane, and I do believe that we are making progress in that regard,” Harris said Friday.
“Ali Mayorkas is doing an extraordinary job: Boots on the ground here at the border, implementing reforms within the Department of Homeland Security that are clearly having an effect of expediting in a fair and judicious way the folks who are arriving,” she added.
The words lent an echo of George W. Bush’s praise for Michael Brown, then the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Hurricane Katrina flooded much of New Orleans’s 9th Ward. “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” Bush said to Brown, who would be on his way out within 10 days.