WASHINGTON – As the Biden administration continues to grapple with the growing number of unaccompanied migrant children at the border, Vice President Kamala Harris will be leading U.S. efforts to stem migration at the southern border, President Joe Biden announced Wednesday.
Harris under her new role will be working on establishing a partnership with Mexico, and the northern triangle of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to stem the flow of migrants to the U.S.
“There’s no question that this is a challenging situation,” Harris said in remarks ahead of a meeting with Biden, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday. “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.”
An increased number of children are being accepted into the U.S., leading to overcrowding in short-term, jail-like facilities run by Customs and Border Protection. The Biden administration has struggled to move children quickly out of those facilities and into those run by the Department of Health and Human Services. By law, children are supposed to be moved out of CBP facilities within 72 hours.
As of Tuesday, Health and Human Services has 11,350 unaccompanied minors in its care.
Biden praised Harris Wednesday during the announcement, saying he “can think of nobody who is better qualified to do this.”
“When she speaks, she speaks for me, doesn’t have to check with me,” Biden said of Harris. “She knows what she’s doing, and I hope we can move this along.”
During an interview with CBS This Morning on Wednesday, Harris said the administration is facing a “huge problem” at the border. Biden administration officials have avoided using the term “crisis” to describe what is happening at the border.
“It’s a huge problem. I’m not going to pretend it’s not. It’s a huge problem,” Harris said. “Are we looking at overcrowding at the border? Particularly of these kids? Yes. Should these kids be in the custody of HHS… instead of the patrol? Yes. Should we be processing these cases faster? Yes.”
“This is, however, not going to be solved overnight,” she added.
The Biden administration has faced criticism from Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill for its response to the situation at the border. The White House has also been criticized for a lack of media access to the facilities.
White House officials and members of Congress visited a holding facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, on Wednesday. One network, NBC, accompanied the officials on their trip.
The trip comes one day after the Biden administration released photos and videos of Customs and Border Protection overflow facilities in Donna, Texas, and El Paso, Texas.
The Biden administration has been in contact with Mexico and Central American countries to discuss solutions for the increase of migrants at the border.
Earlier this week, Roberta Jacobson, special assistant to the president and coordinator for the southwest border, traveled to meet with Mexican government officials to discuss the situation at the border.
Juan Gonzalez, special assistant to the president and senior director for the Western Hemisphere, and Ricardo Zuniga, the State Department’s northern triangle special envoy, traveled to Guatemala to meet with government officials and NGOs in the country to discuss how to address the “root causes of migration in the region and build a more hopeful future in the region.”
Although the White House is struggling to handle the increase in migrants at the border, surges are typical and have happened in past years such as in 2019 and 2014.
Many migrants were left in limbo under the Trump administration due to several policies like Title 42, which is still in place, and the Migrant Protection Protocol, which forced migrants to wait in Mexico for their immigration hearings. Many of those migrants are now trying to cross into the U.S.
In addition, spring time is typically when the U.S. sees an increased number of migrants coming to the U.S.-Mexico border, as conditions are easier to travel in. Many migrants coming from Central American countries are faced with political and economic turmoil in their countries, as well as gang violence.
Last year, the region was hit by two hurricanes that displaced many in Central America. That has caused some to make the trek to the U.S.
Reach Rebecca Morin at Twitter @RebeccaMorin_