Vice President Kamala Harris will finally take some in-person action in her role as the Biden administration’s migration czar — visiting Central America amid a surge of migrants to the US-Mexico border.
“Well, it’s the first trip,” Harris told reporters in Washington on Wednesday at an unrelated swearing-in ceremony.
Harris, who arrives in Guatemala on Sunday before traveling to Mexico City on Monday, did not say where she might go on a subsequent trip.
“I’m there to listen as much as I am to share perspective” on how to reduce migration, she said.
Republicans have pushed for Harris to go to the US border to see the historic surge of migrants including unaccompanied children, which they attribute to the Biden administration’s policies.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 34 counties along or near the Lone Star State’s border with Mexico Tuesday, saying President Biden’s immigration policies had allowed in a flood of drugs and gang members.
Harris faced significant Republican criticism for appearing to do little on the migration crisis after Biden tapped her for the role in March. After sustained attacks, Harris beefed up her calendar with relevant meetings with nonprofits and regional experts.
But she has thus far not scheduled a press conference on the border crisis.
Harris has spoken twice with the Guatemalan leader and twice with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
“I’ll be meeting at the front leg of the trip with the president of Guatemala, Giammattei, and we have a lot to discuss,” Harris told reporters Wednesday.
“It is about what we need to do and can do together to build support for the folks who need help in terms of hunger and the economic development piece, the extreme weather and the impact that has had on their economy.”
She added: “But it’s also about having very frank and honest conversations about the need to address corruption, to address crime, violence, and in particular against some of the most vulnerable populations in that country.”
Harris said that she expects to have “an honest and real conversation” in Guatemala.
The vice president, who at one point seemed to describe her role as mere coordination among cabinet secretaries, also said that during the trip “we will bring to bear on the conversation the commitment that various members of our administration are making through their agencies as cabinet secretaries to renew and in many cases to upgrade the kind of resources that we are committing to that region to address the root causes.”
The number of US-Mexico border detentions soared to a 21-year monthly high of more than 178,000 in April, the most recent month for which statistics are available. Many families and unaccompanied children are from the three-country “Northern Triangle” of Central America, which includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Harris has not directly communicated with the scandal-tainted leaders of Honduras and El Salvador.
Although Biden has described the dash to the border as seasonal, Republican critics accuse him of adding new “pull” factors for migrants.
Biden terminated former President Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy that required Central American asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while US courts reviewed their claims. He also halted construction of his predecessor’s Mexico border wall and issued an order affirming the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gives work permits and protection from deportation to people brought illegally to the US as minors.
Biden proposed legislation to create a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the US and House Democrats passed a pair of bills in March that would legalize about half of that population.
In December, then-President-elect Biden said that he was concerned about abruptly relaxing Trump’s immigration policies because he feared that if he acted too quickly, he would trigger “2 million people on our border.”