Harris heads for the border after being criticized for his absence

WASHINGTON (AP) – Kamala Harris faces perhaps the most politically difficult moment of her vice presidency on Friday as she heads to the southern United States border as part of her role as the head of the response from the Biden administration to a sharp increase in migration.

While in El Paso, she will visit a customs and border patrol processing center, speak with advocates from faith-based organizations as well as shelter and legal service providers, and deliver remarks.

The vice president has faced months of criticism from members of both parties for refusing to make the trip so far and for her confused explanations of the reasons.


Republicans took advantage of Harris and President Joe Biden’s absence at the border to portray the administration as weak on border security, seeking to rekindle a powerful political weapon against Democrats in time for the mid-election. term of 2022. With former President Donald Trump visiting the region less than a week after Harris, Republicans will be watching the Vice President’s visit closely to find fodder for further attacks.

While various administration officials have made several visits to the border, the absence of Biden and Harris has left some Democrats concerned that damage has already been done.

“The administration gives the impression that Democrats are weak,” Texas Democratic Representative Henry Cuellar said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I’ve heard from Democrats and Republicans in my area, what the hell is going on with this administration? “

Cuellar’s district stretches south of San Antonio to the US-Mexico border, and last year he was re-elected by the thinnest margin of his nearly two-decade career. While he says he is not worried about his own fight for re-election, he adds: “I am worried about my colleagues.

Cuellar’s comments reflect a wider concern among some Democrats and immigration activists that the Biden administration has ceded the border security debate to Republicans.

Biden’s first months in office saw record numbers of migrants attempting to cross the border. US Customs and Border Protection recorded more than 180,000 encounters at the Mexican border in May, the highest number since March 2000. These figures were amplified by a ban on asylum seekers linked to the pandemic, which has encouraged repeated attempts to cross the border because getting caught had no legal consequences.

Republicans used those numbers to attack Biden and Harris as weak on border security, a message the GOP successfully used in the 2020 campaign.

Administration officials, including Harris, have sought to push back on this perception, with Harris repeatedly sending the message to migrants during his recent visit to Guatemala: “Don’t come.

But the comments drew fire from some progressives, including New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who called the post “disappointing.”

It was an incident that underscored the political stalemate Harris finds himself in, tackling an intractable problem that has plagued past administrations and has been used by both sides to drive corners and turnout during election season. If Biden chooses not to run for a second term, Harris will be seen as the main candidate to replace him, and the immigration issue could become either a chance for her to showcase her accomplishments or an albatross.

Indeed, Republicans preemptively hammered Harris during his visit to the border, with Trump taking credit for his decision to leave.

Harris’ advisers have been careful to point out that his primary focus on immigration is to tackle the root causes of migration. She seeks economic and humanitarian solutions to improve the conditions of residents of Central and North American countries fleeing to the United States. His assistants designed his trip to the border as part of an effort to better understand how to solve the problem.

“What happens at the border is important and is directly linked to what is happening in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras,” said Harris spokeswoman Symone Sanders. “It is directly linked to the work to tackle the root causes of migration.”

Harris was joined by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Democratic Senator from Illinois Dick Durbin and Democratic Representative Veronica Escobar, who represents the district there.

Harris had no plans to visit the Fort Bliss military post migrant detention center, which drew criticism from advocates who described unsafe conditions and allegations of abuse against some of the thousands of children that are hosted there. Cuellar called his decision to travel to El Paso “politically safe” because, he said, most border activity takes place further south.

Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a Latin American civil rights organization, expressed concern that Harris’ visit was “a day late and a dollar short. “.

“It almost feels like they’re kind of forced into it by local communities, as well as political attacks from right-wing Republicans,” Garcia said.

But, all the same, Garcia said he was glad she was leaving and expressed optimism that her visit could help the Biden administration correct its course on the immigration issue and contrast with it. the Trump administration’s tough stance on border security.

“They should own this and they should solve it, because it requires a two-party solution,” he said.


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