Harris, while finally visiting the border, touts 'extreme progress' in tackling migrant surge

Harris visited El Paso, Texas, nearly 100 days after being appointed by Biden to lead diplomatic efforts to tackle root causes

Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday finally made her long-awaited trip to the southern border, after months of criticism for not visiting since being tapped to lead the efforts to end the crisis, touting what she called "extreme progress" by the administration on tackling the migrant surge.

Harris visited El Paso, Texas, nearly 100 days after being appointed by President Biden to lead the diplomatic efforts to tackle the root causes of the crisis at the southern border that has seen hundreds of thousands of migrants hitting the border in recent months.

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Harris, who had come under intense criticism by both Republicans and Democrats for her failure to visit the border, toured a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facility, a port of entry, and received an operational briefing on what is going on at the border. She also met with a number of migrants detained at the centers.

Asked why she had made her first trip to the border now, Harris responded by noting that she had been to the border as a senator and claimed it was a natural extension of her recent trips to Guatemala and Mexico -- where she had in fact laughed off calls for her to go to the border and quipped that "I haven't been to Europe."

"Because as I’ve long said, I said back in March I was going to come to the border so this is not a new plan," she said on Friday. "But the reality of it is we have to deal with the causes and we have to deal with the effects."

"And being in Guatemala, and being in Mexico talking with Mexico as a partner frankly on the issue, was about addressing the causes and coming to the border at the advice and invitation of [Rep. Veronica Escobar] is about looking at the effects of what we have seen happening in Central America," she said.

Harris, and the administration as a whole, has focused efforts on tackling what they see as the "root causes" of the crisis -- such as poverty, violence and climate change in Central America. Harris’ visit to the region included a number of efforts and investments to tackle those root causes.

Critics have pointed to the more welcoming message issued to migrants by the Biden administration, while also blaming its rollback of border wall construction and Trump-era policies like Remain-in-Mexico and asylum cooperative agreements with Northern Triangle countries that kept migrants out of the U.S.

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"In a matter of days following @JoeBiden's inauguration, they shredded most of the programs at the border to stem the flow of illegal aliens," former acting Deputy DHS Secretary Ken Cuccinelli tweeted. "Maybe b/c they preferred to assist in the flow of illegal immigrants instead of stemming the flow."

Harris was accompanied by not only Escobar, but also Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who used the trip to push Congress to pass "immigration reform," and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Harris blamed the Trump administration for the ongoing situation at the border, which the current administration has refused to call a crisis, claiming "we inherited a tough situation." She praised Mayorkas and his team for their efforts.

"I commend all of them for their success they have seen thus far, I call it progress, we're not exactly where we want to be yet, but we've seen extreme progress over these last few months because of his dedication and his efforts," she says.

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Asked why she visited El Paso, instead of areas that have been more acutely hit like the Rio Grande Valley Sector, Harris said El Paso was where a number of Trump policies, like the Remain-in-Mexico policy and child separation policies, were implemented. 

Harris said DHS has done "great work" with technology that has expedited processing of people arriving at the border.

"They have instituted technology that over the last couple of months has expedited, in a very significant way, processing of people who are arriving at our border," she said.

But those claims of improving the situation were unlikely to be believed by critics of the administration’s border and immigration policies, who pointed to the ongoing increases of migrant encounters -- including criminal illegal immigrants -- and seizures of fentanyl as proof the situation had only escalated under the Biden administration.

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Republicans dismissed the trip as a "photo op" and a "layover," with the Republican National Committee launching an on-the-ground ad campaign in Texas to highlight the border crisis. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, meanwhile, said Harris was acknowledging "the humanitarian, national security, and public health crisis her administration created – albeit some 800 miles from the epicenter of the crisis."

"Communities like El Paso are struggling because of the damage the Biden-Harris administration has caused by opening the floodgates to human smugglers and drug cartels," he said. "But, if the Vice President came to Texas without a concrete plan to secure our border and is unwilling to reverse her administration’s failed immigration policies that caused the crisis, then her visit is nothing short of a glorified photo-op."