Technical failures and political embarrassments marred the opening days of Vice President Kamala Harris’ immigration tour of Central America, and she is now heading to meet a second head of state who blames the Biden-Harris administration for the immigration surge at the U.S. border.
Harris landed in Guatemala on Sunday despite mechanical failures that forced her plane to turn around soon after takeoff. She then spent the flight handing out cookies bearing her own likeness, garnering mixed reactions. It was the same day Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei tied the Biden-Harris administration’s immigration policies to the illegal immigration surge at the U.S. border.
— Courtney Subramanian (@cmsub) June 7, 2021
Soon after landing, protesters reportedly met her motorcade with signs saying “Trump won,” “Go home” and “Kamala, mind your own business.” Harris met with Giammattei and gave a speech urging Guatemalans not to come to the U.S. on Monday.
Mira como nuestros hermanos guatemaltecos recibieron a Kamala Harris.
— El Nuevo Estado (@eInuevoestado) June 7, 2021
Giammattei said Sunday that “coyotes” had started organizing groups to cross the border “the very next day” after the Biden-Harris inauguration. He also called on the administration to deliver a clearer message on immigration. (RELATED: ‘Not Today!’: Kamala Harris Cracks Up When Asked If She Will Visit The Border)
Her Monday statements brought criticism from both sides of the aisle as Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her squad attacked the vice president for warning Guatemalans not to cross the border.
This is disappointing to see.
First, seeking asylum at any US border is a 100% legal method of arrival.
Second, the US spent decades contributing to regime change and destabilization in Latin America. We can’t help set someone’s house on fire and then blame them for fleeing. https://t.co/vADyh5H0bw
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) June 7, 2021
“It would be helpful if the US would finally acknowledge its contributions to destabilization and regime change in the region. Doing so can help us change US foreign policy, trade policy, climate policy, & carceral border policy to address causes of mass displacement & migration,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote in a follow-up tweet.
Stephen Miller, the senior adviser to former President Donald Trump, ripped Harris’ speech as “meaningless” and “a lie.”
And, tragically, @VP’s meaningless “do not come” statement is a lie. Just like the contemptible lie from @SecMayorkas that “the border is closed.” The truth is that Biden has flung the border wide open. The *policy* is come now and you will get in, and the whole world knows it.
— Stephen Miller (@StephenM) June 8, 2021
Harris then met with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Tuesday, another head of state who has blamed the Biden-Harris administration for the surge.
Obrador told reporters after Tuesday’s event that he planned to “touch on” the issue of increasing border security with Harris, but said they were focused on “root causes.” The comments were more reserved than his criticism for the new administration in March.
“Expectations were created that with the Government of President [Joe] Biden there would be better treatment of migrants,” Obrador said at the time. “And this has caused Central American migrants, and also from our country, wanting to cross the border thinking that it is easier to do so.”
AMLO: “Expectations were created that with the Government of President Biden there would be a better treatment of migrants. And this has caused Central American migrants, and also from our country, wanting to cross the border thinking that it is easier to do so” pic.twitter.com/TNrZQamuWK
— José Díaz-Briseño (@diazbriseno) March 23, 2021
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported 178,622 border apprehensions in April, the most recent month with available data. The number is a 21-year record for monthly apprehensions.
Harris has sought to distance herself from the border situation since Biden appointed her to address the ongoing surge in late March. Harris argues her role is to address the “root causes” of immigration in Guatemala and Mexico, such as high crime rates and poverty, and that she therefore does not need to visit the border.
Republicans have swatted the argument down, however.
“There’s a reason Kamala Harris doesn’t want to go to the border. There’s a reason Joe Biden doesn’t want to go to the border. Because they know that if they go, the reporters will follow them and the TV cameras will follow them. Their strategy is simple, it’s: try to cover this up,” Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told Fox News on Tuesday.
Critics have pressed her on why she has yet to make the trip, most recently in an NBC News interview with Lester Holt that airs Tuesday.
“Do you have any plans to visit the border?” Holt asked in a preview released Monday.
“At some point. You know, we are going to the border. We’ve been to the border. So, this whole thing about the border — we’ve been to the border. We’ve been to the border,” Harris responded.
“You haven’t been to the border,” Holt interjected.
“I care about what’s happening at the border. I’m in Guatemala because my focus is dealing with the root causes of migration,” Harris continued. “There may be some who think that that is not important but it is my firm belief that if we care about what’s happening at the border, we better care about the root causes and address them, and so that’s what I’m doing.”
Harris has announced various efforts aimed at stemming the flow of migrants, such as training local law enforcement to investigation transnational crimes and offering hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 vaccine doses.
The Biden-Harris administration has requested $861 million for aide to Central and South American countries, although such aide has never been proven to decrease border crossings.