For weeks, Republicans criticized Vice President Kamala Harris for failing to visit the border as part of her work to tackle the root causes of migration. On Friday, the vice president made the trip and said a meeting with young girls at a border facility reminded her that the issue should not be reduced to party politics.
“They asked me, ‘How do you become the first female vice president?’” Said Ms. Harris. “It also reminds me that this issue cannot be reduced to a political issue. We talk about children, we talk about families, we talk about suffering. ”
From the first minutes of her journey, Mrs. Harris was politically far from a rare moment of calm in Washington. As President Biden celebrated a tentative bipartisan infrastructure package deal and celebrated Pride Month, Ms. Harris faced sensitive questions from reporters.
“The plan was always to come here,” she said. “And I think we will have a good and productive day.”
She and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas faced a flurry of questions about the Biden government’s handling of an influx of migrants. She has been criticized for visiting El Paso instead of the lower Rio Grande Valley, which is believed to be the epicenter of the migration surge.
“Here in El Paso, the previous administration’s child separation policy has been implemented,” said Ms. Harris.
She has also been criticized for not visiting a tent complex in nearby Fort Bliss where migrant children are held. The Biden government announced that Xavier Becerra, the Minister for Health and Human Services, would go there next week.
And Ms. Harris and Mr. Mayorkas were asked when the government would end Title 42, a Trump-era rule that allows the U.S. government to expel migrants, including asylum seekers, on public health grounds. The administration is working on plans for this, but on Friday Mayorkas said the decision would ultimately be made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ms. Harris received praise from Democrats, who said her trip showed a commitment to solving an issue that has weighed on presidential administrations for decades.
“Your presence in El Paso today is a sign of your care and commitment to meaningful immigration reform,” said Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who stood next to her on the tarmac in El Paso. “And I want to join her and say that Congress must do its part.”
Others said, however, Ms. Harris should have used the trip to visit facilities strained by the influx of adult migrants and unaccompanied children, as well as spend more time with local officials, landowners and border guards dealing with the problem.
“She will check the box to go to the border,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat who wrote a letter to Ms. Harris last week inviting her to visit, said in an interview. “The people down there don’t need a pat on the shoulder. You need resources and equipment. “
Ms. Harris visited the Customs and Border Protection Processing Center in El Paso, where she received a briefing and inquired about the technology used to scan vehicles at the border and handle illegal border crossings.
“I could imagine it would also improve accuracy,” Ms. Harris said when speaking to an officer. “Can I look at the files?”
Although her office denies politics played a role in her visit, the stop is politically significant. A major port of entry, El Paso has intricate connections with former President Donald J. Trump, who will soon be traveling to the border with Governor Greg Abbott of Texas.
The number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border has reached a record high under the Biden administration, and officials have struggled to get them quickly out of cramped facilities and into the care of family members.