Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday announced an August trip to Singapore and Vietnam — despite data showing that the migration crisis on the US-Mexico border is worsening.
It will be Harris’ second trip abroad as vice president after her June trip to Guatemala and Mexico in a bid to enlist the countries to help reduce illegal migration to the US.
Harris’ highest-profile policy role is as President Biden’s point person on migration, but fresh data show the number of people detained for illegally crossing the border grew to nearly 189,000 in June.
In May, more than 180,000 people were detained at the border, a 21-year monthly high. In April, almost 179,000 people were detained and more than 173,000 were taken into custody in March.
It’s unclear why Harris is leading a trip to Asia. US-Asia relations are not among her roughly half-dozen duties assigned by Biden, which include leading the charge against Republican state-level election reform laws and leading a pro-union task force.
Harris spokeswoman Symone Sanders said the vice president “will travel to Singapore and Vietnam next month to strengthen relationships and expand economic cooperation with two critical Indo-Pacific partners of the United States.”
The precise dates were not provided.
Harris will “engage the leaders of both governments on issues of mutual interest, including regional security, the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and our joint efforts to promote a rules-based international order,” Sanders said.
Harris will also “affirm and celebrate the strong cultural and people-to-people ties between the United States and these countries.”
Vietnam, a Communist-run country whose government defeated the US in the Vietnam War, hosted a 2019 summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
“President Biden and Vice President Harris have made it a top priority to rebuild our global partnerships and keep our nation secure, and this upcoming visit continues that work – deepening our engagement in Southeast Asia,” Sanders said. “Vice President Harris will be the first vice president to ever visit Vietnam.”
Harris’ recent trip to Guatemala and Mexico was dogged by questions about her refusal to visit the US-Mexico border, which she ultimately did after returning to the US. Her trip to Asia threatens to be overshadowed by questions about why she’s not focusing on migration as the crisis worsens.
Critics blame Biden’s border policies, campaign rhetoric about welcoming asylum seekers and Democratic legislation that would legalize most illegal immigrants for sparking the rush to the border.
But Biden has said that the surge is “seasonal” and the result of pent-up demand after numbers dropped in 2020 during the height of the pandemic.
The Biden administration says some of the people have been detained multiple times after being expelled from the US under special COVID-19 rules.