Update at 13:50
EL PASO – Accused of being a ‘border czar’ who avoided the border and ultimately chose a place where the influx of migrants is less acute, Vice President Kamala Harris said on Friday that El Paso was a wise choice because he was zero point for so many people. discredited the policies of the Trump era.
“It was here in El Paso that the previous administration’s child separation policy was unveiled,” she said, and where then-President Donald Trump implemented the policy to “stay in Mexico” at the end of 2018 prohibiting asylum seekers from entering the country until their requests are processed. judged, despite the law and tradition of the United States. “We saw the disaster that resulted here in El Paso.”
Pressure had intensified for months for Harris to make his first visit to the border as vice president and as a point of contact for President Joe Biden on a crisis that quickly took his administration by surprise.
Just two weeks ago in Guatemala, Harris dismissed the need for his own border visit as just a “big gesture” over the diplomacy needed to tackle the poverty, corruption and violence that drives people to flee north in search of safety and opportunities. Then Governor Greg Abbott and Trump announced they would visit the border next Wednesday, forcing Harris’ hand, although the White House maintains the timing had nothing to do with it.
Even on Friday, she argued that her efforts away from the border remain greater.
“We have to deal with the causes and we have to deal with the effects,” she said, adding that a visit to El Paso was to “examine the effects of what we have seen happening in Central America.”
But most of the migrants caught crossing the border illegally in the El Paso region are from Mexico.
The Rio Grande Valley – 800 miles closer to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – is historically the main entry point for migrants to this region and lawmakers on both sides have said it is where she should have gone to understand the magnitude of the crisis.
Air Force Two landed at El Paso Airport, a short drive from a sprawling tent city for young migrants at Fort Bliss, which has taken in up to 5,000 children and generated filth complaints, neglect and understaffing. Harris didn’t stop to take a look, which critics also called a missed opportunity.
Health and Social Services Secretary Xavier Becerra will make an inspection visit on Monday. Officials say conditions have improved, complaints are taken seriously and the number of children has fallen to 1,500.
“The border is not the same at all,” R-Texas Senator John Cornyn wrote on Twitter when Harris arrived. “But why would she deliberately avoid that part of the border where she is likely to learn the most about the consequences of failures in Biden-Harris immigration policy and how to correct them?”
Although the border patrol encounters many more migrants in the valley, El Paso is of disproportionate importance in the ongoing battles over border policy and the treatment of immigrants.
This is where Trump kicked off his re-election campaign in early 2019 with a rally intended to highlight his demands for a border wall. Six months later, a gunman who had drafted an anti-immigrant manifesto came from North Texas and killed 23 people at a Walmart, targeting Latinos.
“El Paso has been and probably always will be the epicenter of immigration problems in the United States,” political scientist Richard Pineda of the University of Texas at El Paso said, calling it a city of “tremendous symbolic power.” in one of the most controversial debates.
Harris spent 4.5 hours in El Paso, traveling with Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, Democrat No.2, Representative Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. She left at 1:30 p.m. Dallas time for Los Angeles.
Mayorkas stressed that it was his responsibility, not hers, “to look after the management of the security of our border”, refuting the critics of the GOP who insist on dubbing her the “border czar”. And he said he recommended El Paso for his visit because “it is one of the busiest areas on the border” and a site that shows “the progress that has been made and the work that remains”.
At the Paso del Norte border post, one of the busiest in the country, Harris visited an outdoor area where vehicles are inspected for contraband. Inside, in an area where asylum seekers are screened, she met five Central American girls aged 9 to 16.
They drew him pictures and told him what they wanted to be when they grew up: veterinarian, policeman, civil engineer, doctor.
One of them asked him for advice.
Harris urged them to work hard, study, dream and hope, according to assistants.
“This is a good opportunity for the vice president to get information on what’s going on at the border and how the problems in Central America are closely linked to the United States,” said Andrew Selee, president. from the Migration Policy Institute.
Ports of entry have been closed to non-essential travel since March 2020 due to the pandemic. Biden extended the restriction until at least July 21. But there is another excuse for many Americans to shop south of the border, a source of irritation for the residents of Ciudad Juárez who cannot enjoy free two-way traffic.
Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, criticized Biden for hampering innocent buyers while “leaving the border open to illegal aliens, smugglers and drugs.”
And he mocked Harris for a “glorified photoshoot” after she “finally took the time in her schedule to acknowledge the humanitarian, national security and public health crisis her administration has created – well. only some 800 miles from the epicenter of the crisis ”.
In Paso del Norte, helicopters flew over and security was tight.
Andrea Durazo, 60, wants Biden to keep his promise to illegally legalize some of the millions of people in the country. “We should welcome them as they have welcomed me,” she said.
She also wants the restrictions to be lifted to allow the border to return to normal. “We need our brothers and sisters in Juárez. End the separation, ”she said.
Harris visited the central customs and border protection processing center and met with migrant advocates and nonprofit groups that provide shelter and legal services, then telling “horrific stories of abuse, fear and prejudice “endured by migrants before leaving their homes and at the hands of coyotes and cartels during the journey north.
“Let us not lose sight of the fact that we are talking about human beings,” she said, adding that she and Biden are committed to restoring an “orderly and humane” immigration system.
Escobar was happy that Harris had accepted his invitation.
“El Paso is the perfect place to continue exploring the question of why people are leaving their communities,” said the MP. “I am very optimistic because for the first time in at least four years, we have an administration interested in taking up this important challenge in a multifaceted way.”
Dozens of protesters marched through the streets to catch a glimpse of the vice president.
Pro-Trump protesters held a professionally printed sign with messages such as “That Mala Hate Mexicans ”- a play on his name, Kamala, which translates to“ how mean ”- and“ Kamala do you hear their screams? and “Kamala, you know Trump won.”
Tania Guerrero, a longtime legal rights activist in Juárez who wants Trump-era policies erased more quickly, complained that under Biden, “families are still separated.”
Biden left in place a Trump-era public health rule, Title 42, allowing for the immediate deportation of migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic, although he made an exception for minors taken without parents or legal guardian.
Given the high level of security at the cities’ three shared entry points, Guerrero said, “and how militarized our border has become, it would be even better if it crossed the border and saw how… the policies that she supports keeping people on the Mexican side in extremely dangerous conditions while they wait, while they are dosed, while they flee for their lives.
Mayorkas, when asked for Title 42, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “is reviewing this intensively and consistently” and will make decisions based on evolving public health data.
Border correspondent Alfredo Corchado reported from El Paso with Washington bureau chief Todd J. Gillman in Washington.