Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to the U.S.-Mexico border on Friday amid pressure from Republicans who have seized on a surge of border crossings to criticize the Biden administration, her office announced on Wednesday. She will travel to El Paso with Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary.
President Biden tapped Ms. Harris to lead an effort to improve conditions in Central America to deter migration north as the administration struggled to safely process unaccompanied minors at the border earlier this year. Ms. Harris has since faced mounting questions over her absence at the border from Republicans and some moderate Democrats who have said the administration lacks a clear strategy on border security.
The visit, which was first reported by Politico, will come just days before former President Donald J. Trump is set to visit the border with a group of House Republicans and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, who has pledged to finish the border wall that became a symbol of Mr. Trump’s restrictive immigration agenda.
Ms. Harris and her aides have defended her role on migration, arguing that she is focused on addressing the poverty and persecution that force vulnerable families to leave their homes. But even during a trip to Guatemala and Mexico earlier this month aimed at improving conditions in the region, she continued to face questions over her absence at the border. Her answers on the matter fueled criticism, frustrated agents tasked with responding to the surge of migrants and perplexed some within the administration.
“I’ve never been to Europe,” Ms. Harris said to the NBC anchor Lester Holt when pressed about why she had not visited the border. “I don’t understand the point you’re making.”
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, defended Ms. Harris’s comments on Wednesday. “She said in the same interview she would be open to going to the border at an appropriate time,” Ms. Psaki said.
Pressed on whether the timing of her trip had anything to do with the upcoming visit by Mr. Trump, Ms. Psaki said, “We made an assessment within our government about when it was an appropriate time for her to go the border.”
The vice president’s comments to NBC distracted from her efforts to refocus attention on initiatives to combat corruption, gun trafficking and illegal border crossings. During her trip, Ms. Harris also delivered a blunt message to migrants.
“Do not come,” Ms. Harris said in Guatemala, sparking criticism from immigration advocates and progressives.
Ms. Harris committed the next day to visiting the southern border.
The Biden administration has made progress since it struggled to move thousands of migrant children and teenagers who crossed the border into shelters managed by the Department of Health and Human Services. Since the beginning of the year, more than 65,000 migrant children and teenagers arrived alone on the southern border, with record numbers arriving during the spring months. But in May, nearly 2,900 fewer migrant children arrived alone compared to a month earlier.
The Biden administration has continued to use a Trump-era pandemic emergency rule to rapidly turn away most migrants at the border without providing them a chance to apply for asylum, despite Mr. Biden’s pledge during the presidential campaign to restore a system to provide protection to migrants. The policy has been criticized by former officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, immigration advocates and the administration’s own medical consultants.
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