Harris and her team have repeatedly denied criticism that neither she nor the president visited the U.S.-Mexico border, arguing that she is more focused on tackling the destabilizing conditions that bring thousands of migrants from Central America to it to travel to the US border seeking refuge. That was the central message of their first trip abroad, a two-day visit to Mexico and Guatemala earlier this month. There Harris met with local officials and pleaded with the migrants not to travel across Mexico to the United States.
However, her trip was hampered by persistent questions about whether she would go to the border to see the situation there. Harris’ response – downplaying the need and stating that she had also not visited Europe – only added to the criticism.
Harris ‘trip takes place just days before former President Donald Trump’s visit. Trump will be on this trip by Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott and a group of House Republicans.
The number of migrants arriving at the US southern border has skyrocketed in the months since the Biden government took office. According to monthly data from Customs and Border Protection, more than 180,000 migrants were arrested at the border in May.
Of these, the majority – more than 112,000 – were expelled almost immediately. That’s because the Biden administration continues to use Title 42, a public health order that Trump relied on in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic to kick migrants out without letting them apply for asylum.
A record number of unaccompanied children were also taken into custody in the United States under the Biden administration. According to the CBP, more than 18,800 unaccompanied children crossed the border in March; the highest monthly number recorded to date was more than 11,000 children crossing the border in May 2019. The number of children arriving fell steadily in April and May, but is still well above the 2019 record.
Much of the political focus on the US southern border has evaporated in recent weeks. However, Biden continues to grapple with longstanding political and logistical challenges in dealing with increased numbers of migrant arrivals. Republicans have targeted the increasing number of migrants heading to the border as a line of attack against the Biden government, repeatedly calling it the “Biden border crisis”.
They also beat up Harris for not visiting the border after Biden hired her to lead diplomatic efforts to tackle the root causes of migration, a job Biden had during the Obama administration as Vice President. During a press conference with the Guatemalan President earlier this month, Harris denied criticism, saying her visit to the region focused on finding ways to address irregular migration in a way that was “significant, tangible and with real results” is.
“And I will continue to focus on this type of work, as opposed to grand gestures,” Harris said in Guatemala City.
But by the end of the trip, after repeated criticism of her response to questions about her border visit, Harris had promised to visit the border soon.
Sabrina Rodriguez and Eugene Daniels contributed to this report.