On Friday, Vice President Kamala Harris made her first official visit to the border as VP with Texas Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (D-El Paso), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Dick Durbin, and Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. President Joe Biden appointed Harris as the person to “lead the efforts” on immigration in March.
Earlier this month, Harris visited Guatemala and Mexico, and said visiting the Texas-Mexico border next was always the plan.
“Being in Mexico and being in Guatemala was about addressing the causes and then coming to the border… is about looking at the effects of what we have seen happening in Central America,” Harris said.
Mayorkas said he recommended visiting El Paso to Harris because it is the “busiest sector” along the border, and has been working hard to improve operations.
“In March, this sector experienced overcrowded unaccompanied children staying at the border patrol station for more than an average of 120 hours,” Mayorkas said. “We saw too many children in a border patrol facility not designed for them for too long.”
According to Mayorkas, unaccompanied children now spend an average of 30 hours in the facility.
Harris also said the administration chose to visit El Paso because it is the “launch” site of the children separation policy which was heavily enforced by the Trump administration in 2018.
On her visit, Harris first stopped at the El Paso Central Processing center and spoke with agents about the operations of the facility. While Harris looked over the computer system, another agent asked Harris for funding to improve technology in the facilities.
“We’re trying to get rid of all of this paperwork,” the agent said. “It’s very time consuming.”
After the tour of the processing center, Harris stopped at the Paso del Norte point and met five unaccompanied migrant children who traveled from Central America. According to Harris, the girls were fleeing from harm, without their families, but still full of hope.
Harris then met with local advocacy groups and faith leaders to have a roundtable on the root causes of immigration. Organizations in the round table included the Hope Border Institute, Border Network for Human Rights, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Service, and Annunciation House Catholic Diocese of El Paso.
Congresswoman Escobar thanked Harris for visiting and said she feels hopeful for the future of immigration reform.
“For the first time in at least four years, we have an administration interested in addressing this significant challenge in a multifaceted way,” Escobar said. “We have to completely re-envision the way we treat migrants at our nation’s front door.”
Harris ended her visit calling on Congress to do the work and pass immigration reform.
“This issue can not be reduced to a political issue, we are talking about children, we are talking about families, we are talking about suffering and our approach has to be thoughtful and effective,” Harris said.
Photo: The White House