Vice President Kamala Harris said on Wednesday that she will travel to Guatemala and Mexico as part of her role in tackling the "root causes" of the swirling migration crisis at the southern border -- as she faces intense criticism for her alleged lack of action on the crisis.
"The president has asked Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas to address what is going on the border and he has been working very hard on that and is showing some progress because of his hard work," she said at a Northern Triangle security roundtable.
"I have been asked to lead the issue of dealing with root causes in the Northern Triangle, similar to what the then-Vice President did many years ago," she said. "But I will tell you these are issues that aren't going to be addressed overnight."
On plans for travel, Harris said "we have plans in the works to go to Guatemala as soon as possible," later saying she would also be stopping in Mexico.
The Biden administration has been struggling to handle a historic surge in migrants to the border, one that critics have said is fueled by the administration's liberal immigration policies. The administration refused to describe it as a crisis, calling it a "challenge" instead, and has blamed the prior administration.
Images of child migrants packed in facilities in South Texas, combined with numbers showing record numbers of migrant apprehensions this year is increasing pressure on the administration to act. So far it has built a number of extra facilities, and has also come to an agreement with countries south of the border for them to increase troop presences at their borders.
Harris was tapped as Biden’s pick to deal with what the White House describes as "root causes" of the crisis, with Biden saying Harris had "agreed to lead our diplomatic effort and work with those nations to accept the returnees, and enhance migration enforcement at their borders – at their borders."
She has faced criticism for not visiting the border -- something this latest trip does not seem to resolve. At a House GOP press conference on Wednesday, Republicans displayed a milk carton with Harris' picture on it with a slogan on "Missing at the Border."
The White House has countered that criticism by saying that she will be involved in "high-level diplomatic" work, and not the border itself.
"This is diplomatic work that ultimately, over the long term, will address the migration issues we're seeing. It's not an assignment to ‘handle the border,’" White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said on MSNBC. "What she's doing is high-level diplomatic work that is incredibly important to our economic stability in the hemisphere."
However, former DHS officials have brushed off that defense, saying that those talks require Harris to also know about what is going on at the border.
"You can’t talk to Northern Triangle countries, or to Mexican officials, without understanding the pressures and the situation and atmosphere on the border," former acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf said at a Heritage Foundation press conference on Tuesday. "The two are so linked, you can’t do one without the other."