Vice President Kamala Harris is traveling to El Paso, Texas Friday for her first visit to the U.S.-Mexico border following mounting criticism from Republicans for not going sooner after being tapped by President Biden to oversee the administration’s efforts in tackling “root causes” of the border crisis.
Upon arrivalal in Texas, Harris will participate in a walking tour of the El Paso Central Processing Center, a Customs and Border Patrol facility. Following the tour, Harris is expected to receive an “operational briefing,” which is set to cover the operations of the facility, the latest advancements in technology, and the facility’s efforts and the administration’s efforts to combat transnational crime.
Harris departed Joint Base Andrews early Friday and is traveling with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, and Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar from Texas.
After the tour, Harris is expected to hold a conversation with advocates from faith-based NGOs, and Shelter and Legal Service Providers. Harris, joined by Mayorkas, Durbin and Escobar, at the end of the trip, are set to make remarks to the press and will likely take questions.
Harris has been criticized by former Acting Director of U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, Tom Homan, for avoiding the worst-hit areas of the southern border, opting for El Paso instead of the Rio Grande Valley.
“Instead of going there and talking to the men and women dealing with that crisis and taking care of thousands of unaccompanied children, she picks El Paso because she doesn’t want to see the devastation that her administration’s policies have caused.”
Administration officials said the vice president’s trip Friday is “building on” Harris’ “diplomatic work with Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.”
Harris, earlier this month, traveled to Guatemala, which officials said was focused on the “root causes of migration,” while Friday’s visit is “about the effects” on the border. Officials said that both trips “will inform the administration’s Root Causes Strategy.”
“As Vice President Harris said during her trip to Guatemala and Mexico: What happens at the border matters and is directly connected to what is happening in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras,” Harris chief spokeswoman and senior adviser Symone Sanders said Thursday in previewing the trip. “It is directly connected to the work of addressing the root causes of migration.”
Sanders called El Paso “important,” saying it “represents larger border dynamics and it is a critical part of understanding the human experience of migration.”
Administration officials also said Harris’ trip will “shed a spotlight” on the Biden administration’s work to “build a fair, humane and orderly immigration system.”
“What is happening at the border is a direct result of a broken immigration system that has been ignored for far too long,” Sanders said. “Since the President and Vice President have taken office, they have been focused on addressing immigration at every level, establishing lawful pathways, addressing the root causes, and again restoring a fair, orderly, and humane means for asylum.”
But Sanders insisted that Republican pressure did not influence the administration’s decision to send Harris to the border Friday.
“This administration does not take their cues from Republican criticism, nor from the former President of the United States of America. We have said, over a number of different occasions—and the vice president has said, over the course—over the last three months, that she would go to the border. She has been before. She would go again. She would go when it was appropriate; when it made sense.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also said that it is the “appropriate time” for Harris to make the trip.
“We are at this point because we’ve made a great deal of progress,” Psaki said this week, noting the coordination of the trip was done with the vice president’s office and the Department of Homeland Security. “Is there still more work to do? Absolutely. But it is important that every component of our government is coordinated.”
Meanwhile, former President Trump is set to visit the border with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott next week.
“Biden and Harris have handed control of our border over to cartels, criminals, and coyotes. Drug dealers, MS-13 gang members, human smugglers, sex traffickers, and the criminal elements of the world now have free rein,” Trump said in a statement. “What Biden and Harris have done, and are continuing to do on our border, is a grave and willful dereliction of duty.”
But the White House said Trump’s trip did not influence Harris’ timing.
“We made an assessment within our government about when it was an appropriate time for her to go to the border,” Psaki said.
At the border, more than 180,000 migrants were encountered in May, and critics have blamed a rapid reversal of Trump-era policies like the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) and border wall construction, as well as what they see as a more welcoming message to migrants.
The Biden administration has instead emphasized the role of “root causes” like violence, poverty and climate change in Central America, while focusing more on the challenges of processing migrants, including unaccompanied children, into the U.S. quickly.
Meanwhile, President Biden touted Harris, saying she has “done a great job so far” since he tapped her to deal with the “root causes” of the migration crisis back in March.
“The reason why it’s important that she go down [is] she’s now set up the criteria, having spoken with the president of Mexico and Guatemala [and] visited the region, to know what we need to do,” Biden said.
Fox News’ Adam Shaw contributed to this report.