President Biden announced Wednesday that he is putting Vice President Kamala Harris in charge of efforts to stem the increased flow of immigrants and asylum seekers along the southern border of the United States.
“I can think of nobody who is better qualified to do this,” Biden told reporters at the White House. Harris, he said, will take the helm of diplomatic efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador), where a significant portion of the migrants seeking protection at the border come from, including an influx of unaccompanied minors.
Prior to the announcement, a senior administration official told reporters Wednesday that Harris will be focused on coordinating with those countries to stem the current tide of illegal immigration while also addressing the root causes of migration from those countries.
Harris’s new assignment is her biggest yet as vice president, as the Biden administration faces intense scrutiny from both sides of the aisle over its response to the current influx of children. This migration has overwhelmed the Department of Health and Human Services’ network of shelters for children, resulting in overcrowding and prolonged detention at Border Patrol facilities. According to HHS, there were approximately 11,350 children in the care of its Office of Refugee Resettlement, with thousands more waiting in custody at the border.
Harris’s comments Wednesday seemed to echo those made by other administration officials in recent days, highlighting longer-term efforts to reform the asylum system and address conditions of extreme poverty, violence and corruption, particularly in Northern Triangle countries, that drive migrants to flee their homes.
“There are many factors that lead [people] to leave these countries,” Harris said, adding that “while we are clear that people should not come to the border now, we also understand that we will enforce the law and that 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, as the president has described, to come here.”
So far, the Biden administration’s attempts to deter migrants from making the dangerous journey to the U.S. by insisting that “the border is closed” seem to be falling on deaf ears. Besides unaccompanied minors and a limited number of families, most migrants, including those seeking asylum and other humanitarian protections, are being immediately expelled at the border under a Trump-era emergency public health order known as Title 42.
Nonetheless, Customs and Border Protection reports that 100,441 people were apprehended at the southern border during the month of February, a 28 percent increase from the previous month. In a statement issued last week, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the U.S. is “on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years.”
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