Vice President Kamala Harris will come to El Paso on Friday, the first visit to the border by the Biden administration’s point person on migration issues.
Details of the visit have not been released, other than that she will be accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Alexander Mayorkas. Republicans have kept up a steady drumbeat of criticism of the vice president because she has not visited the border since taking on her migration portfolio.
“Earlier this year, as you all know, the president asked the vice president to oversee our diplomatic efforts to address the root causes of migration from El Salvador to Guatemala and Honduras,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at her daily briefing on Wednesday. “And as a part of this work, she recently traveled to Guatemala and Mexico last month to have those discussions. And this trip to the border on Friday will be a part of this effort.”
Harris’ visit to El Paso will come ahead of a border visit by former President Donald Trump, who will accompany Gov. Greg Abbott next week. Details haven’t been released, but much of the Republican border focus has been on the Rio Grande Valley.
Psaki said Trump’s trip was not the reason for Harris’ visit to the border.
“I would say that we have no way to predict what former President Trump will say when he goes to the border. We can only guess, but I don’t think our view is that the vice president making a trip to the border with the secretary of Homeland Security to assess and take a look at progress that’s been made is going to prevent or change what the former president of the United States does when he goes to the border in a couple of days,” she said.
Texas Republican leaders denounced Harris’ planned El Paso visit, saying she wasn’t going to the part of the border facing the biggest challenges.
The Rio Grande Valley has been the largest migrant entry point for many years, in part because it’s the closest part of the U.S. land border to Central America. So far in fiscal year 2021, Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley have had more than twice as many encounters with border crossers without documentation than their El Paso counterparts, according to government data.
However, Fort Bliss in El Paso is the site of the government’s largest processing center for migrant children who crossed the border without a parent or guardian.
Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for its border policies, saying they have encouraged migrants to cross. However, the Biden administration has kept in place one of the Trump administration’s primary programs to limit crossings — the use of public health laws to immediately expel most border crossers without documentation.
Psaki said the Biden administration is making progress on the border.
“If you look just to a couple of months ago, when 6,000 children were in Border Patrol facilities, we’re now at the point where there is far less than a thousand. If you look to just a couple of months ago when there were children who were waiting in border patrol facilities for more than a hundred hours and they were certainly overcrowded, now it’s less than 30 hours,” she said. “In April, there were 22,000 kids in (Health and Human Services facilities and now that number is 14,000. Is there still more work to do? Absolutely. That’s the purview of Secretary Mayorkas. But it’s important every component of our government is coordinated.”
State Sen. Cèsar Blanco, D-El Paso, said criticism of the Biden-Harris administration from state Republicans is expected regardless of the issue.
“They’re going to criticize this administration for anything that it does but the fact that she’s coming to El Paso, which has often been ground zero for a lot of the immigration debates, I think speaks volumes,” he said.
Blanco added that recent concerns over operations at the Fort Bliss shelter need to be addressed, though it’s unclear if Harris plans to visit the facility Friday. Last month, U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, said the amount oversight and accountability at the site was “absolutely unacceptable.”
“Whenever there are reports or allegations of any undesirable conditions that unaccompanied minors are in, regardless of whether they’re in El Paso or in Brownsville or any (other) part of the border, it should be elevated to the highest level of the administration,” he said.
El Paso Matters editor Julián Aguilar contributed to this story.
Cover photo: President Joe Biden has made Vice President Kamala Harris the administration’s point person on Central America migration issues.