On Wednesday, President Joe Biden put Vice-President Kamala Harris in charge of diplomatic efforts to reduce the number of child migrants and migrant families arriving at the southern border this year.
The role will essentially be twofold. According to a senior official who spoke with Politico, the vice-president will converse with leaders in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras on ways to alleviate the “root causes” of the migration, while also strengthening relationships with Mexico and these “northern triangle” countries after years of damaging rhetoric from the White House. “While we are clear that people should not come to the border now, we also understand that we will enforce the law,” Harris said Wednesday. “We also — because we can chew gum and walk at the same time — must address the root causes that cause people to make the trek, as the president has described, to come here.”
In his campaign last year, Biden proposed spending over $4 billion during his first term to mitigate violence, government corruption, and the effects of climate change in the northern-triangle countries, which account for a strong percentage of those arriving at the border in recent years. Biden’s proposal acts as an expansion of the Obama administration’s $750 million in aid promised to the three countries as an effort to slow arrivals by unaccompanied minors in 2014. (The assistance was frozen by the Trump administration in 2019.) Seven years ago, Biden, as vice-president, effectively served in the same diplomatic role that Harris has been appointed to.
While the White House did not state when Harris would begin this foreign-policy task, she told CBS News in an interview that she and Biden would head to the southern border soon. Two months into his presidency, the number of child migrants that the Border Patrol and Health and Human Services have taken in has become a political vulnerability for Biden, as support among Democrats for his path to citizenship decreases and Republicans weaponize the situation. However, as an analysis of Customs and Border Patrol data by the Washington Post reveals, there is no evidence to suggest that Biden’s messaging on immigration has caused an increase in border arrivals. Rather, the current increase in apprehensions is consistent with the usual January-through-March uptick — which is related to more hospitable weather at the border — and due to a “backlog of demand because of 2020’s coronavirus border closure.” Nevertheless, the administration’s decision to allow unaccompanied migrants into the U.S. to be placed with family sponsors is creating overcrowded conditions for some children, who are being forced to sleep on mats on the floor with foil sheets as they await relocation with family members.