Border Crisis

Biden makes Harris the point person on immigration issues amid border surge

"I can think of nobody who is better qualified to do this”

Kamala Harris will be front and center at one of the most politically risky issues for the White House

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US PRESS GROUP

Vice President Kamala Harris will be the White House's point person on immigration issues at the nation's southern border, President Joe Biden announced Wednesday, tasking her with stemming the rising tide of migrants, many of them unaccompanied children, arriving in the U.S.

"I can think of nobody who is better qualified to do this,” the president told reporters at the White House.

Harris’ main focus, a senior administration official told reporters earlier Wednesday, will be two-pronged: working to slow the flow of “irregular migrants” by addressing “the root causes” that prompt them to leave their home countries as well as strengthening relationships with Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries where the bulk of the migrants arriving at the U.S. border come from.

The role puts Harris front-and-center at one of the most politically risky issues for the White House as it struggles with an influx of migrant children at the southern border. Harris acknowledged this, saying there “is no question this is a challenging situation,” but said that she would be looking forward to discussions with the leaders of the nations.

On the call with reporters, aides made clear that Harris would not be owning the entire immigration portfolio for the administration and would be instead focused on long-term efforts in Central America.

“[Harris] is going to be focused on overseeing our diplomatic efforts, working closely with these nations to look at the issues of migration and their own enforcement on their own borders," the senior administration official said. "More broadly, though, she's going to be working to implement a long-term strategy that gets at the root causes of migration.”

As a presidential candidate, Biden proposed spending $4 billion over four years to tackle violence, climate change and government corruption in the Northern Triangle region — comprised of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. This is the process Harris will oversee.

“We can talk all day about the symptoms of the situation, but you really have to get at what is causing this phenomenon, and that will be her focus,” the official said. “We are proceeding both with a sense of decency about treating migrants like human beings and doing the very best we can to care for people and treating our neighbors with respect and dignity.”

Harris’ new responsibility is similar to one Biden had while he was vice president. He visited the region several times as more migrants from the three countries began to make their way en masse to the U.S.-Mexico border. Those efforts were seen as largely unsuccessful, and the situation in the countries has grown even more precarious.

When asked what the president learned from that effort, Ambassador Roberta Jacobson, a special assistant to the president who previously served as the U.S. envoy to Mexico, said in a press briefing: “Both the President and all of us who worked for him on that learned a great deal. And I think that it’s really important that we put that to use now. One of the things he thinks is so important is being really explicit with leadership in the countries from which migrants are coming about commitments that they need to make, because overcoming the reasons people migrate is not going to be the United States’ job alone.”

The administration didn’t share details on when Harris would start conversations with leaders or when the vice president would make a trip to any of the countries. But in an interview with CBS on Wednesday, Harris said she and Biden would be headed to the border soon.

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