March 26, 2021
U.S. President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that Vice President Kamala Harris would lead the Administration’s efforts to deter migration to the nation’ssouthwestern border by working to improve conditions in Central America—plunging her into one of the most politically fraught issues facing the White House, The New York Times reported.
The president said he had directed Harris to oversee the Administration’s plans to pump billions of dollars into the ravaged economies of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. She will work with the leaders of Central American governments to bolster the region’s economy in the hopes of reducing the violence and poverty that often have driven families in those countries to seek refuge in the United States.
“While we are clear that people should not come to the border now, we also understand that we will enforce the law,” Vice President Harris said before a White House meeting with top immigration officials. “We also—because we can chew gum and walk at the same time—must address the root causes that cause people to make the trek.”
The announcement underscores the sense of urgency at the border, where the administration has struggled to move thousands of young migrants from detention centers meant for adults into shelters managed by the Department of Health and Human Services. Republicans, who have seized on the images to make a case that President Biden’s immigration agenda is only attracting more people from the region, have vowed to put the issue at the center of their efforts to retake power in Congress next year.
The president, however, has continued to use a pandemic emergency rule to rapidly turn away most migrants at the border. The exception: Even though an appeals court allowed the United States to resume expelling minors. Biden has elected to welcome them into the country, where they must be kept in custody until they can be released to sponsors.
For the vice president, the diplomatic assignment is likely to be challenging. Previous efforts, including one led by Biden when he was vice president, were largely unsuccessful, as critics charged that corrupt leaders there had not effectively spent foreign aid money. In the years since, a majority of the families crossing the border have traveled from Central America,—eeking economic opportunity, safety from gangs and reunions with family members already in the United States.
The effort by Ms. Harris to address the root causes of migration, which can take years, is also unlikely to quickly produce the swift action demanded by Republicans and some Democrats to reduce the overcrowding at the border,the Times said. Representative Henry Cuellar, Democrat of Texas, released photographs this week showing dozens of young migrants lying on mats under foil blankets in crowded pods in a tent facility managed by the Border Patrol in Donna, Texas.
“The administration is struggling between the humane, softer approach as opposed to Trump and they have to calibrate and find that balance in enforcing the laws on the books and still projecting compassion,” Cuellar said after touring an overflow facility managed by the Department of Health and Human Services that was established to move children quickly from the border jails.
As of Monday, more than 4,800 children and teenagers were still stuck in detention cells intended to hold adults for short periods, including more than 3,300 held longer than the maximum 72 hours allowed under federal law, according to government documents obtained by The New York Times. On Tuesday, the number of minors in the border facilities increased to more than 4,960, according to data released on Wednesday by the Department of Homeland Security. The largest number of minors held this way under the Trump administration was about 2,600 in June 2019, according to current and former Customs and Border Protection officials.
Harris acknowledged on Wednesday that “no question this is a challenging situation,” but said that she was looking forward to engaging in discussions with leaders of Central American countries.
For Vice President Harris, the diplomatic assignment is one of the first in a portfolio of responsibilities that aides said would expand in the months ahead..
The difficulty of the current task should not be underestimated.
Research contact: @nytimes