Vice President Kamala Harris will be far south of the U.S. border this week when she travels to Guatemala and Mexico to discuss efforts to address the root causes of Central American migrants coming to the USA. For months, Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill have called on Harris and […]
Vice President Kamala Harris will be far south of the U.S. border this week when she travels to Guatemala and Mexico to discuss efforts to address the root causes of Central American migrants coming to the USA.
For months, Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill have called on Harris and President Joe Biden to visit areas along the U.S.-Mexican border, where they say an increase of migrants has developed into a crisis. Members of the House and Senate have flown into border towns, toured intake facilities and taken boat rides on the Rio Grande. Their message to Harris and Biden: Come see it for yourself.
In the Rio Grande Valley, the southern tip of Texas where many migrants come, it’s debatable whether a visit from Harris or Biden is necessary. Instead, officials said, they want the Biden administration to make border cities and their leaders a larger part in conversations about finding solutions, and they want Congress to pass immigration legislation.
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“I don't know if that makes a difference,” Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, told USA TODAY about the president or vice president visiting the area. “I certainly think they need to be having a larger circle at the table of the conversation of what's happening.”
The Rio Grande Valley, which includes busy border crossings, has been the backdrop of the immigration debate in Washington for decades. Lawmakers and media have parachuted in during spikes in immigration. Some presidents have visited the area; others skipped Texas’ southernmost tip.
Amid a large increase of migrants, mostly from Central America, President Barack Obama went to Texas in 2014, but not to the border. He gave a speech on the topic up north in Dallas.
President Donald Trump made immigration and building a border wall an initiative during his administration. He visited the Rio Grande Valley twice, in 2019 and in January, days before the end of his administration.
President George W. Bush went to Mission, Texas, in August 2006 to speak with Army National Guard members assisting the Border Patrol.
Biden said in March he would go to the border "at some point," then said he has not visited because he doesn’t “want to become the issue.”
“I don’t want to be, you know, bringing all of the Secret Service and everybody with me to get in the way,” he said during his first news conference in March.
Harris said she is focusing on the root causes of migration from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, plus Mexico.
Harris will meet Guatemalan officials and leaders of nonprofit groups Monday. Tuesday, she will head to Mexico City to meet with officials.
William Antholis, CEO of the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, said that for leaders, heading to emergency areas affected by shootings or hurricanes is “part of the job, and it's a way of showing that you care.”
Migration, Antholis said, is more complicated because officials aren’t dealing only with what’s happening at the U.S.-Mexican border but also at the point of departure.
Sending Harris to Guatemala and Mexico, the Biden administration is “choosing to emphasize the political root causes of this migration," he said.
In April, House Republican lawmakers put Harris' photo on a milk carton, which had the caption “Missing at the border: Vice President Kamala Harris.”
“If she’s the vice president of the United States and the president put her in charge of this, Vice President Harris needs to go down to the border and see this for herself," Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., said during a news conference in April.
Increases of migrant children, families and adults coming to the U.S. border have occurred under multiple administrations, Democrat and Republican. In 2014, under the Obama administration, Border Patrol officials encountered 570,698 migrants. Under Trump in 2019, the Border Patrol apprehended nearly 1 million individuals.
Record numbers of migrants have been apprehended this year. In April, 178,622 people were apprehended at the southern border.
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Gonzalez, who represents portions of the Rio Grande Valley, praised Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ trips to the area. Mayorkas toured a Border Patrol facility in Donna, Texas, where reporters were allowed access with the secretary and several lawmakers.
“I think he’s done a pretty good job of seeing what's on the ground and reporting back and implementing their plans of how to manage the situation,” Gonzalez said.
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, whose term ends this month, said he would like to see Biden or Harris visit the area to make border communities a larger part of the discussion about addressing the migration situation. Darling briefly met with Trump during one of his visits to the Rio Grande Valley.
“Talk to local people,” he said.
Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez doesn't view a potential visit negatively.
“I don't see it as a bad thing for Vice President Harris or President Biden wanting to come down,” Mendez said. “We'd certainly be happy to show them around and show them what's happening here on the border and tell them our story. I think it's always good for somebody to see it for themselves.”
Reach Rebecca Morin at Twitter @RebeccaMorin_
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kamala Harris and Joe Biden haven’t visited the US-Mexico border. Texas officials are mixed on whether they need to