Vice President Kamala Harris will visit the US-Mexico border this week for the first time since taking a lead role in immigration issues, officials said on Wednesday, amid continued pressure on the Biden administration to address the growing number of migrants coming from Central America.
In a statement, Harris’ spokesperson Symone Sanders said the vice president will travel to El Paso, Texas, on Friday and will be accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
“Earlier this year, the President asked the Vice President to oversee our diplomatic efforts to address the root causes of migration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras,” Sanders said.
While on that trip, Harris was assailed by Republicans who criticised her and President Joe Biden for not having already visited the US-Mexico border.
Former President Donald Trump, who made curbing immigration a focus of his presidency and has repeatedly criticized the Biden administration’s handling of the immigration issue, last week announced plans to visit the US-Mexico border on June 30 with Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
“After months of ignoring the crisis at the Southern Border, it is great that we got Kamala Harris to finally go and see the tremendous destruction and death that they’ve created – a direct result of Biden ending my very tough but fair Border policies,” Trump said in a statement Wednesday.
“If Governor Abbott and I weren’t going there next week, she would have never gone!” Trump continued.
Harris is leading efforts in Biden’s administration to address the surge of Central American migrants – many of them fleeing poverty and gang violence – who have been trekking to the US-Mexico border.
According to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data, more than 180,000 migrants were apprehended at the border during the month of May, a 20-year high.
The rise in numbers came after Biden – who took office in January – reversed several key anti-immigration policies put in place by his predecessor, Trump.
He stopped a policy called “Remain in Mexico” that required asylum seekers to wait for their US court dates in Mexico, halted the construction of a border wall with Mexico and relaxed eligibility rules for gaining asylum.
At the same time Biden has left in place a border policy known as Title 42, expelling in five months more than 400,000 migrants detained at or near the border, including many Central American families and asylum seekers sent back to Mexico.
Nearly 3,300 migrants stranded in Mexico since January have been kidnapped, raped, trafficked or assaulted, according to a report by Human Rights First, a US-based rights group.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, blasted the Biden administration for reversing Trump’s border policies.
“Kamala Harris needs to look in the eyes of the children who are suffering because of Joe Biden’s failed immigration policies,” Cruz said Wednesday on Fox News.
“That’s when they need to end catch and release, and they need to reinstate the ‘Remain in Mexico’ international agreement that had solved this problem until Joe Biden and Kamala Harris screwed it up,” he said.
Biden administration officials say they want to reform the nation’s immigration system and put in place more “humane” border policies. Biden has also tasked Harris with overseeing programmes that tackle what are called the “root causes” of migration: lack of economic opportunities, crime and corruption.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that Harris’ trip is coordinated with the Department of Homeland Security as well as the Department of Health and Human Services in order “to continue to address the root causes and work in coordination to get the situation under control”.