President Biden tapped Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday to steer diplomatic efforts to stem the rising inflow of migrants crossing the border with Mexico, handing her one of many administration’s thorniest issues.
Whereas Harris has been energetic in Biden’s efforts to tame the COVID-19 pandemic and revive the financial system, she had but to carve out a specific area of interest of her personal. Her latest job, to enlist Mexico and Central American international locations to assist handle what the administration calls the foundation causes of migration, is a solo mission for which she can be judged straight.
The project speaks to the seriousness with which Biden, who took on an analogous activity when he was vp, is approaching the issue — selecting his second in command to characterize him within the area.
The job comes with political danger for Harris, who has been a extremely seen presence in Biden’s early days however and not using a distinct portfolio. The administration, wanting to reverse former President Trump’s hard-line immigration insurance policies, has appeared flatfooted because the numbers of individuals crossing the border has swelled, and pictures of kids in overcrowded detention facilities reveal the humanitarian toll.
“This new surge we’re coping with now began previously administration, however it’s our accountability,” Biden informed reporters upfront of a White Home assembly with Harris, Homeland Safety Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas and Well being and Human Companies Secretary Xavier Becerra.
Biden mentioned the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — the so-called Northern Triangle international locations the place many migrants start their journey — and of Mexico, which may assist deter the northbound migrants, won’t “need to surprise” whether or not Harris speaks for him.
“She doesn’t need to test with me. She is aware of what she’s doing,” Biden mentioned, pointing to Harris’ expertise as California legal professional normal, the place she did a “nice deal for human rights” whereas combating organized crime.
Harris mentioned she would work to strengthen democratic establishments in these international locations, efforts that she and Biden say will dissuade folks from making the damaging journey.
“No query, this can be a difficult state of affairs,” she added.
Former Harris advisors say she is well-suited for the job, although it’s a possible minefield. “Excessive danger. Very low reward. However she is captivated with it,” mentioned one, who requested anonymity to keep away from alienating Harris or her employees.
Throughout an interview earlier with CBS, earlier than her new project was introduced, Harris emphasised the necessity to meld diplomatic efforts with assist, an method Biden was a part of in 2014 when he was President Obama’s vp and unaccompanied minors arrived in bigger numbers.
“Look, we’ve been in workplace lower than 100 days,” Harris mentioned, urging endurance. “We’re addressing it. We’re coping with it. However it’s going to take a while. And are we annoyed? Are you annoyed? Sure. We’re.”
Administration officers mentioned Harris doesn’t have rapid journey plans. She spoke earlier Wednesday with a U.S. delegation touring in Mexico. The delegation had been scheduled to proceed to Guatemala, however a senior administration official mentioned the plans had been jettisoned after the eruption of a volcano there, which scrambled air journey within the area.
A Harris advisor mentioned the duty of main the engagement with the 4 international locations wouldn’t make Harris straight answerable for fixing the rapid downside of the surge on the border. That will proceed to be dealt with by the departments of Homeland Safety, which oversees immigration, and of Well being and Human Companies, which homes and supervises unaccompanied minors.
White Home officers who briefed reporters pressured that the administration would take a humanitarian method to frame points, contrasting their efforts with the Trump administration’s insurance policies.
“We’re continuing each with a way of decency with treating migrants like human beings … and treating our neighbors with respect and dignity,” mentioned one of many officers, additionally talking on situation of anonymity.
The issue, which has confronted Democratic and Republican administrations for years, is a vexing one, mentioned Ben Rohrbaugh, director for enforcement and border safety on the White Home Nationwide Safety Council underneath Obama.
“It’s extremely, extremely exhausting to deal with Northern Triangle migration, particularly with weak teams like households and kids,” he mentioned. “You don’t simply go in and say, ‘Right here’s some assist, repair some issues.’”
The continued surge of migrants has anxious some Democratic strategists aware of subsequent yr’s midterm election, given the social gathering’s have to proceed to win over politically reasonable, white, working-class voters who kind a key bloc in lots of northern states.
Related worries have been raised publicly in current days by Democratic members of Congress who characterize closely Latino districts in Texas, together with Reps. Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez. Trump considerably improved his vote amongst Latinos in these areas in 2020 in contrast with 2016.
“Democrats shifting ahead have to just accept the truth of American public opinion and politics — that border safety is a large concern that can’t be elided in any try to reform the immigration system,” Democratic analyst Ruy Teixeira wrote in a current article.
Democrats can’t “merely be the other of Trump on this concern. He was closed; we’re open! He was imply; we’re good!” Teixeira wrote. “Voters need an immigration system that’s each fairly beneficiant and humane and underneath management.”
Republicans wasted no time in attacking. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey known as Harris “the worst attainable alternative.”
“In no level in her profession has she given any indication that she considers the border an issue, or a severe risk,” he mentioned at an occasion in his state.
The Biden administration has tried to cope with the political downside partly by blaming the Trump administration for abandoning a “damaged immigration system” and by emphasizing the financial, safety and humanitarian issues in Central America that drive folks to depart.
Whereas blaming Trump could purchase the administration a while, Democrats who’ve urged a extra rapid technique on border safety say addressing the foundation causes of migration will take extra time than voters are keen to offer. They’ve urged the administration to emphasize motion towards the smuggling cartels that transport many migrants to the border.
Nathan Barankin, who served as Harris’ chief of employees when she was California legal professional normal, mentioned she negotiated agreements on drug smuggling and human trafficking with Mexican officers whereas additionally enjoying “hardball with Obama’s DHS and ICE operations to push again on their broad-brush and unjust immigration enforcement practices.”
“Clearly the Central American international locations are extra thorny than Mexico, and other people of goodwill and expertise have been attempting to unravel the ‘root trigger’ immigration issues there for a very long time,” he added. “However I wouldn’t guess towards Harris on this.”