Vice President Kamala Harris said Thursday that Central Americans need “a sense of hope that help is on the way” to deter migration to the overwhelmed US-Mexico border.
Harris was named last month as leader of the Biden administration’s response to a historic surge of migrants illegally crossing the border, but has not paid a visit to the border since then, nor held a press conference on the topic in the ensuing 30 days.
Instead, on Thursday the vice president hosted US philanthropic foundation leaders for a discussion on the border crisis in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House.
“We have to give people a sense of hope, a sense of hope that help is on the way, a sense of hope that if they stay, things will get better,” Harris said during brief public remarks.
“Most people don’t want to leave home. They don’t want to leave their grandparents, they don’t want to leave the culture.”
Harris continued, “So the question has to be, ‘Why do people leave home?’ And often it is the case that people leave home when they don’t want to either because they are fleeing sometimes, or because they are unable to satisfy their basic needs and the needs of taking care of their family. Because the resources and opportunities are not there. And so they have to go elsewhere.”
President Biden’s first federal budget proposal, released this month, seeks $861 million in aid for Central America. The situation is so bad, the Biden administration reportedly has considered direct cash payments to deter potential migrants.
The Harris-hosted meeting featured leaders of prominent foundations set up by wealthy industrialists, including leaders of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Ford Foundation. Mark Brown, president of the George Soros-founded Open Societies Foundation, participated virtually, according to a pool report.
Harris said, “I don’t need to tell this group of experts that this is an issue that has been a longstanding issue, it is complex. If it were easy, it would have been solved a long time ago.” She said the meeting was convened so she could take their advice.
Biden on March 24 asked Harris to lead the US response to a surge of migrants at the border, including families and unaccompanied minors from the “Northern Triangle” — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — in Central America.
But the White House later emphasized she would address only the “root causes” of migration and not border enforcement.
Last week, Harris said she intends to travel to Latin America, including to Guatemala and Mexico, but a date has not been announced.
Harris has spoken by phone with the leaders of Guatemala and Mexico, but she has not visited the border or held a press conference on her role, or spoken with the leaders of El Salvador or Honduras.
Republicans have questioned Harris’ investment in her migration czar role by noting her sparse public events on the topic.
Harris has traveled extensively as part of other initiatives. She visited North Carolina on Monday to promote the more than $2 trillion infrastructure proposal and seemingly reduced her migration role to “bringing together” cabinet secretaries. On Friday, she will visit New Hampshire to tout the infrastructure plan.
Republicans attribute the migrant surge to Biden border policy changes and say Biden-backed legislation that would allow citizenship for most illegal immigrants creates new “pull” factors. In February, Biden terminated former President Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy that required Central American asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while US courts reviewed their claims.