President Joe Biden is placing Kamala Harris in charge of addressing the substantial uptick in migrants, including unaccompanied children, flocking to the U.S.-Mexico border, handing a major political risk to his vice president.
As vice president, Biden was dispatched by then-President Barack Obama to address an increase in the arrival of Central American children at the U.S.-Mexico border — or what Biden at the time called a “dangerous surge of migration.”
Now, as the White House faces a renewed uptick in the number of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum, Biden is giving Harris a similar role.
“This increase has been consequential,” the president said at an afternoon event announcing the move. “I can think of nobody who is better qualified than this woman, who led the second-biggest attorney general’s office in America,” he said, referring to her time as California’s AG.
“Has done a great deal … on human rights, and fighting organized crime,” Biden said. “When she speaks, she speaks for me. … Madam Vice President, I gave you a tough job – and you’re smiling.”
For her part, the new migration czar said “there’s no question that this is a challenging situation,” adding: “While we are clear that people should not come to the border now, we also understand that we will enforce the law.” Both leaders said their administration will attempt to help the Central American countries from which migrants are coming deal with problems there.
Biden criticized the Trump administration for opting against using a $700 million federal program designed to help Northern Triangle countries.
“The best way to keep them from coming, is to keep them from wanting to leave,” Biden added, citing as drivers of migration natural disasters, in addition to cartel violence.
Senior administration officials said Harris would lead a diplomatic effort in the region to improve immigration enforcement by other countries at their borders, “picking up the mantle” of Biden’s own efforts in the region with the goal of stemming the flow to the U.S.-Mexico line.
She’ll be aided by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, with whom she began meeting for regular private lunches soon after taking office, and the administrator for International Development, Gloria Steele. The role is a notable addition to her White House portfolio, which hasn’t centered until now on one particular issue.
Harris began her new role on Wednesday, speaking with the Triangle Special Envoy Ricardo Zuniga and members of a delegation traveling in Mexico.
“The vice president understands well that there are many factors that are leading children and families to leave their homes and take the treacherous journey to arrive at our border,” a senior official said. “This includes economic instability, violence, corruption, and most recently, extreme weather incidents like the two hurricanes at the end of last year.”
“It’s going to be secure borders for the United States, but also for the countries of the region,” another senior official said. “Our border is not open and those countries don’t want open borders either. They want to have it regulated; they want to have good order.”
The vice president will also work with regional leaders on “making it safer for people to stay at home to access asylum in the region to access legal pathways that the administration is working hard to stand up,” said another senior aide.
To do this, the administration intends to “quickly surge” humanitarian assistance to help with navigate the legal pathways.
The White House touted Harris’s time as a California’s chief law enforcement official, where she fought organized crime as the state’s attorney general, and later as a senator, in preparing her for the task.
Officials would not detail plans for Harris to travel to the region, but they said that the vice president would hold phone calls and virtual meetings. Harris had hoped to accompany a delegation traveling in the region now but was unable to, the White House said.
Biden selected Harris for the role because he trusts her deeply, the White House said, and sees her experience as an asset to the task.
“Biden has said over and over again, ‘The person that I trust most, the person I turn to when there’s a hard issue, is Kamala Harris,” one White House official said. “And so, in thinking this through, he thought about who had the right experience as a prosecutor, as an attorney general, had the right mindset and perspective, and someone who was really a confident and and is so close to him, and I think that’s really the the pathway that was followed in terms of ending up where we are.”
This official declined to say whether Biden had provided any guidance based on his own experience under Obama.
The White House also intends to reinstate a $700 million program established under Biden during the last Democratic administration.
Biden has touted his role in the Alliance for Prosperity, a 2014 program that drawn up amid an upswing in the number of unaccompanied Central American minors seeking asylum at the southern border. In a subsequent op-ed, Biden referred to the increase as a “dangerous surge of migration” and called for the United States to help bring about economic and political reforms in the region.
In an interview Wednesday morning, Harris called the current crisis “a huge problem” as the administration struggles to accommodate the vast number of unaccompanied migrant children seeking asylum.
“I’m not going to pretend it’s not,” Harris said during an interview with CBS This Morning. “Are we looking at overcrowding at the border in particular of these kids? Yes.”
Children apprehended at the southern border have been held in Border Patrol custody past the legal three-day detention limit before transitioning to longer-term facilities, drawing outcry from the public and lawmakers.
Harris accepted her new role with a smile in the White House’s ornate State Dining Room despite the risks to her future political ambitions, becoming president, saying to her boss, “Thank you, Mr. President.”
Author: Katherine Doyle
Source: Washington Examiner: Kamala Harris given lead role over border by President Biden