The Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris, visited the border with Mexico on Friday. The person in charge of managing the crisis at the border, one of the most notorious problems for the Administration of President Joe Biden, landed in El Paso (Texas) to check the local facilities of the Office of Customs and Border Protection (CBP, for its acronym in English) and meet with various NGOs in a city where 83% of the inhabitants speak Spanish. With the visit, the Democrats intend to mark a presence in a Republican stronghold and anticipate the visit announced for Wednesday by former President Donald Trump to the border wall. Conservative sectors had harshly criticized Harris, who has already traveled to Mexico and Guatemala, for not having visited the border, the epicenter of the country’s migration crisis. It took Harris five months and five days to make the trip. “It was always in my plans,” he said.
Kamala Harris and the entourage also made up of Alejandro Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security, were received by Trump supporters upon their arrival at the CBP facilities. The group waited for them with banners supporting the ex-president and others that read “How bad ‘he hates Mexicans” and “How bad’ Harris, human trafficker.” Trump has criticized Biden’s immigration policy as bland after the United States reached the highest numbers of illegal immigrants in 20 years since March. The tough angle promoted by the former president still arouses much sympathy among Republicans. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has recently committed $ 250 million to continue the construction of the border wall in the state, a project that has no future for the Democratic White House.
Harris’s visit was focused on learning first-hand about the process of detention of thousands of migrants in one of the most active borders in the world. He heard from the voice of various agents at the El Paso processing center how they are the first to determine which cases are deportations and which others are brought before an immigration judge. Then he went to one of the pedestrian ports of entry at the border crossing, an off-schedule stop. The office was equipped to serve unaccompanied minors, who for months have been the face of the border crisis. In March 19,000 minors arrived alone, an increase of 70% compared to February. The number has decreased. In May it was 14,158. “They are doing a great job,” Harris told Mayorkas this morning, who affirmed that the technological reforms implemented by Homeland Security “are clearly having an effect in expediting the processing of those who arrive.” The vice president found within these facilities five young Central American women between the ages of 9 and 16 who, according to the White House, told her that she was an example to follow. “Never listen to those who tell you that they cannot do something in life,” assured Harris, who also recommended “read a lot and apply with mathematics.”
Harris has admitted what a knock-on effect his visit to the border has been. “Here the separation of children from the previous administration began and MPP (the Migrant Protection Protocols, the program by which the United States sent asylum seekers to Mexico) was also implemented and we saw the disaster of that,” said the vice president in relation to the inhumane policies promoted by Trump and one of his most radical advisers, Stephen Miller. It was also the region where the asylum system that Biden and the Administration are now trying to rebuild to reopen the border to refugees was “broken”. However, the official was also criticized for avoiding visiting a camp near Fort Bliss, in the arid Texas plains, where migrant children sleeping on mats on the ground and suicide attempts have been reported. Symone Sanders, a Biden advisor on immigration issues, said this Friday morning that an investigation has been ordered into the conditions that exist inside the tent, which is operated by the Department of Health.
“It has been a very important trip,” Harris said before leaving town. In the airport hangar, the vice president once again defended her decision to visit Guatemala and Mexico first to learn about the causes that lead people to take the road north. “If you want to deal with the problem, you can not only deal with the symptom, but with the causes,” he said, mentioning some of the factors that drive migrants from Central America: from corruption, food insecurity to the lack of opportunities for Afro-descendants , indigenous or women, or problems related to climate change. “Dealing with these problems is a priority for the United States as neighbors in the Western Hemisphere and by focusing on those priorities, on root causes, we can have an impact on the effects,” he added.
A leak accompanied Harris and Mayorkas’ trip. According to The New York Times, the Government will end Title 42, a regulation that Trump introduced during the health emergency to immediately return almost all immigrants who arrive at the border. Biden, who had left it in force, will end it as part of his more humane vision of addressing the causes that originate emigration, mainly in Central America and Mexico.
The reopening of the border with Mexico
Asked about the plan to reopen the border line to non-essential activities, a priority for Mexico and the US cities on the border, Secretary Mayorkas said that he is aware that it is a sensitive issue and with important economic repercussions since its closure in March of 2020. The final decision, however, will be made with public health criteria. “The decision will be based on scientific data from the Centers for Disease Control,” said the official at a time when vaccination has stalled in the United States and some states have reported spikes, mainly of the Delta variant of the virus.
Mayorkas met last week in Mexico with several senior officials of the Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who are accelerating vaccination in border municipalities to try to tie immunization rates to those of the United States and thus be able to resume activities of the area. The closure, for now, will last until July 21.
For local El Paso organizations, normalizing activities is a priority as well as changing the narrative of the border, a place where the gaze was turned during the Trump presidency. “We have to rehumanize the border, migration and migrants. It is time to recognize that this border will define the character of the nation. This is the new Ellis Island. Migrants built the country in the past and they will build it in the future, ”he said after meeting with Harris Fernando García, director of the NGO Border Network for Human Rights.
In an event after the vice president’s visit, García was satisfied with the meeting: “We accomplished the mission. He was able to come, he met with organizations like us. He listened to us. He listened to our communities, ”he said. For his part, Harris said that the encounter with migrant minors was a reminder that this crisis cannot be politicized, he said. “We are talking about children, we are talking about families, about suffering. Our approach has to be considerate and effective, “he said. “We have to do whatever it takes including, as Senator (Dick) Durbin has done for years, recognize that we need immigration reform in our country and that Congress has to act.” Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, accompanied Harris and Mayorkas on the visit with the congresswoman who represents El Paso, Veronica Escobar.
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