Vice President Kamala Harris is en route to El Paso, Texas Friday morning for her first “border” trip — heading to a site hundreds of miles from the epicenter of the migrant crisis for a visit many critics are calling out as rushed to avoid former President Donald Trump taking a tour before her.
Harris boarded Air Force Two from Joint Base Andrews just before sunrise, just after greeting Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, all of whom are joining her on the brief visit.
The VP declined to speak to the traveling press before boarding, though she offered a wave.
The trip — Harris’ first in the more than three months since President Biden tapped her to handle the record-smashing surge of illegal immigration — comes amid bipartisan criticism of the administration’s handling of the crisis.
The Biden administration’s undoing of former President Donald Trump’s border policies has prompted a flood of Central American and Mexican illegal migrants at the US border, including thousands of unescorted children.
Central Americans looking for refuge from the Northern Triangle countries — Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — have taken these policy moves, as well as the overwhelmingly more welcoming tone from Democrats, as a sign that President Biden is inviting them to cross the border.
Insisting that the border was not facing a crisis, Mayorkas said in early March that the problems the agency faced should be blamed on the previous administration.
The data, however, overwhelmingly shows that migrants are flooding the border because they believe Biden will welcome them with open arms, with over 170,000 illegal crossings a month.
As the crisis heated up, Biden tapped his vice president to address the diplomatic measures related to its “root causes.” However, despite intense pressure, she had declined to commit to going to surveil the situation for herself.
Once the trip was announced, Republican and Democratic lawmakers were quick to excoriate Harris on both the timing and location choice.
El Paso — which is represented by Escobar, a strong supporter of the Biden administration — has fared significantly better than the Rio Grande Valley, represented by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).
Cuellar has spoken out against the Biden administration’s handling of the crisis and encouraged Harris to visit the region.
Escobar, meanwhile, has not.
In Arizona, where Harris will also be avoiding, the Tuscon area has become a hub for the record migrant surges.
News of Harris’ surprise trip came shortly after Trump announced that he would be traveling to the border next week, prompting skepticism of the timing.
Trump released a statement after it was announced saying his planned border trip with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the Republican Study Committee was what finally pushed the VP to make the journey down south, to “see the tremendous destruction and death” caused by Biden’s policies.
“After months of ignoring the crisis at the Southern Border, it is great that we got Kamala Harris to finally go and see the tremendous destruction and death that they’ve created — a direct result of Biden ending my very tough but fair Border policies,” the 45th president began.
“Harris and Biden were given the strongest Border in American history. And now, it is by far the worst in American history.”
“If Governor Abbott and I weren’t going there next week, she would have never gone!”
Harris, who visited Guatemala and Mexico earlier this month as part of her first foreign visit in office, was dogged for her entire trip by questions about going to see the US-Mexico border in person.
Her answer to NBC News’ Lester Holt on the matter gained considerable negative attention.
“At some point, you know, we are going to the border,” a defensive Harris told Holt on “Today” in Guatemala — 1,308 miles away from the US-Mexico crossing.
“We’ve been to the border. So this whole thing about the border, we’ve been to the border,” Harris said, to which Holt replied, “You haven’t been to the border.”
Harris, seeming to laugh at her own joke, responded: “And I haven’t been to Europe. And I mean, I don’t understand the point that you’re making. I’m not discounting the importance of the border.”
Speaking to reporters about the trip Thursday, chief Harris spokeswoman Symone Sanders defended the timing and location choice, saying, “this administration does not take their cues from Republican criticism, nor from the former president of the United States of America.”
“The Vice President has said, over the course — over the last three months, that she would go to the border. She has been before. She would go again. She would go when it was appropriate, when it made sense.”
As for the choice of El Paso, Sanders took a shot at Republicans by making reference to the Trump administration.
“I will note that El Paso being the birthplace — birthplace of the previous administration’s family separation policy is an important part of the story here and one that you can expect we will continue to tell tomorrow on the ground.”