Vice President Kamala Harris visited El Paso Friday, to get a first-hand look the southern border and enforcement efforts, as the Biden administration aims to stem the flow of Central American migrants seeking refuge in the United States.
The Vice President was joined by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Senator Dick Durbin, and Congresswoman Veronica Escobar.
Once Harris arrived at the Customs and Border Protection facility, she addressed the issue and the questions surrounding her visit
“Well, it’s not my first trip. I’ve been to the border many times,” Harris said. “The important aspect of this visit…is making it after the work that she said she did in Mexico and Guatemala…But the reality of it is that we have to deal with causes, and we have to deal with the effects.”
En route to the facility, the motorcade encountered several protesters. According to the Dallas Morning News, the signs read, in part:
“Kamala do you hear their screams?”
Another said, in all caps: “Que Mala Harris for human trafficking; “Also in all caps a sign said: “Que Mala hates Mexicans”
And yet another said in all caps: “Kamala, you know Trump won.”
Vice President Harris and members of her group entered the facility at 8:30 am. Everyone wore masks, including press, at the facility, with Harris thanking a group of agents, whose hands she went down a line and shook.
She took a tour of the intake center within the central processing center, pausing to speak with agents as they continued working at their stations.
As Harris left, the group decided to make an unannounced visit to the nearby port of entry.
The Vice President headed to the Paso del Norte (PDN) Port of Entry, where she toured an area for screening of asylum applicants as they enter from Mexico, viewed a secondary processing area for migrants, and inspected an outdoor vehicle inspection area used to screen vehicles crossing the border for illegal goods or activities.
While there, according to officials from the Vice President’s office, Harris met with 5 young girls ages 9-16, from Central America. They drew pictures for her and they told the VP what they wanted to be when they grow up.
The children also asked the Vice President questions “how did you get so far?” and one said “you’re an example to us,” According to officials she responded with advice to “read a lot, like math, work hard; make good choices and make good friends that lift you up and never listen to anyone who says you can’t do something.”
According to pool reports, while inside the facility, Harris also spoke with an agent who told her the area she was in is for unaccompanied children. He showed her pictures, which he said were from 2016. She asked “when did things improve” and he told her they “began to get better in 2018 and improved even more in 2019.”
He later said at the processing center they are comparing information to past visa applications and other documents on file. ‘We’re always looking for areas to improve,” he said.
At one point Harris told Mayorkas, “Mr. Secretary, you’re doing a great job.”
After the visit, the Vice President held a round table event where she said “she wants to have a “candid” conversation and again mentioned her work on the “root causes.”
Harris added that El Paso was the site of the “launch” of the child separation program and commented on the “broken asylum system,” as well as family reunification, which she said Mayorkas has helped to expedite.
She also talked about deliverables from her meetings in Guatemala and Mexico, including the MOU with Mexico.
“I approach our work with two principles: one that most people do not want to leave home,” she said, adding that when they do it is to flee harm or because staying means they cannot satisfy the basic needs of their family.
Her second principle was the capacity to give people “hope.” She said it is important to her and the president to not only maintain access but provide a role for the leaders at the table to participate.
Participants at the Roundtable with Community Leaders
- Alejandro “Ali” Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security
- Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee
- Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (D-TX-16thDistrict, El Paso)
- Bishop Mark J. Seitz, Sixth Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso
- Linda Rivas, Executive Director of the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center
- Taylor Levy, Immigration Attorney
- Marisa Limón Garza, Deputy Director of the Hope Border Institute
- Dylan Corbett, Executive Director of the Hope Border Institute
- Ruben Garcia, Shelter Director at Annunciation House
- Melissa Lopez, Executive Director of Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Service
- Anilu Chadwick, Managing Attorney for the Emergency Intake Shelter at Ft. Bliss
- Fernando Garcia, Executive Director for Border Network for Human Rights
A short time later, the Vice President boarded Air Force Two and headed to Los Angeles. To view the Vice President’s statements as she departed El Paso, click here.
As Harris made her visit, Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa issued the following statement thanking Vice President Kamala Harris for her visit to the Texas border in El Paso today:
“We are both honored and grateful to have Vice President Harris visiting the border in El Paso today. The vice president has taken a comprehensive approach to address the root causes of migration from Central America and is leading in the Administration’s efforts to protect the rights of asylum seekers, keep our nation secure, and advance immigration justice.
“It is imperative that the Vice President sees for herself the conditions in which refugees are being housed and processed along the border. Many times the discussion is only about the border with Mexico, but the causes of mass migration are far more complicated and encompass many countries, political and economic systems. Real leaders like President Biden and Vice President Harris understand they must engage issues from many different angles — which is why no one can take Gov. Abbott and Donald Trump’s racist GoFundMe border security plan seriously.
“While the Biden Administration is advancing sweeping reforms to our nation’s immigration and human rights policies, there are still lingering effects from four very dark years in which the former Trump administration intentionally separated children and parents in order to discourage anyone from asking for asylum in the United States. Tragically, some of those kids still have not been reunited with their parents after years of forced separation. The Trump administration’s forced seizure of private land to build the wall has also affected countless families, communities and cities across the southern Texas border and has had environmentally disastrous consequences in the areas where construction has begun.
“As the leaders of the free world, President Biden and Vice President Harris are working to once again restore order, honor and integrity to our immigration system and homeland security.”
At the same time, several former DHS Leaders slammed the Vice President for “Border Security Tourism”
Chad Wolf, former acting DHS secretary: “Vice President Harris should have visited the border months ago. She owed it to the law enforcement officers of the Border Patrol and the communities along the border that have been hit with the historic crisis created by this administration. It has been more than 90 days since she was put in charge of addressing the border crisis. During those three months, she has adamantly refused to go to the border and meet with the men and women of DHS law enforcement and see the border crisis firsthand. She has even mocked the idea, and compared going to the border to going to Europe. While it’s certainly positive that she is taking this step, I am disappointed that she is not going to the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) – the very epicenter of this crisis. Instead, she is going to El Paso, a metropolitan area 800-1,000 miles away from the RGV. Hopefully, Harris’ trip will be a working visit, not just border security tourism.”
Mark Morgan, former acting CBP commissioner: “Since being appointed to fix Biden’s border crisis, Vice President Harris has done everything she possibly can to distance herself from the crisis, hiding behind terms like ‘root causes’ to escape scrutiny and criticism for her boss’ open-borders agenda. It’s sad that it took former President Donald Trump’s announcing a visit to the border himself—presenting the Biden administration with an optics nightmare—to finally force Harris to visit the border. Not surprisingly, she’s intentionally staying clear of the Rio Grande Valley area, the current epicenter of the southwest border crisis, where they have experienced more than 270,000 apprehensions this fiscal year. We know this trip is nothing more than a political stunt, rather than a substantive action designed to solicit open and honest feedback from Border Patrol agents who are dealing with the crisis Harris and her chief architect, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro
Lora Ries, former acting DHS deputy chief of staff: “It’s astounding that it has taken Vice President Harris this long to travel to the border to see the Biden border catastrophe firsthand, but her sudden scramble to get to the border is a situation of her own making. One wonders if her boss, President Biden, the man ultimately responsible for this border crisis, will also ever go to the border. And will Harris herself now make multiple trips to the border, including to the areas hardest hit by the surge, like the Rio Grande Valley? That’s an easy way to determine whether Harris is making this trip simply to stop the consistent coverage of her notable absence. Ultimately, however, even if Harris and Biden make a dozen trips, the crisis will continue until they end the open-borders policies that have created the crisis in the first place.”
Below are Vice President Harris’ comments during the round table meeting:
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I want to thank all of these incredible leaders for joining us today. Bishop, thank you for hosting us and bringing us together.
I want to thank, of course, in front of everyone — and always, I want to thank — the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Dick Durbin, for being a part of this, but most importantly for your longstanding work fighting for immigration reform in the United States Senate and on behalf of all of America.
Congresswoman, thank you for inviting us to your district and for your work, always, in D.C. and everywhere, requiring that everyone understands what is happening here. And you’ve been a national leader in that regard.
Secretary Mayorkas, it has been wonderful to be with you today. And thank you for all of the innovation and the incredible work that you’ve been doing in such a short time with DHS.
So I’ve asked these community leaders, these advocates, these fighters for human rights and for the dignity of all people to join us today so we could have a candid conversation.
Many of you are aware that the President has asked me to — to focus on issues of the root causes of migration to the United States. And your work has been the work on the ground — tireless work, heartfelt work — and I know you’ve seen so much.
And — and so we’re going to have a candid conversation about what you see as being the reasons that people arrive here, and anything else you’d like to discuss.
Our administration — it is important to be clear — is working to build a fair and a functional and a humane immigration system. We feel very strongly about that. And as you know, we inherited a tough situation. In fact, right here in El Paso was the launch of the child separation policy. You saw it as it rolled out on the ground in real time.
We have looked at a system where people have been housed in inhumane conditions over the last many years — an asylum system that has been broken and that needs to be reconstructed.
And in five months, we’ve made progress. But there’s still much more work to be done. But we’ve made progress: family reunifications — and the Secretary can talk about that — incredible work that we’ve seen that he has helped facilitate by expediting the processing at the border; asylum determinations; and, of course, improvements in the facilities’ conditions.
We’ve also made progress in addressing the root causes. As you know, I traveled to Guatemala and Mexico in the last couple of weeks, and met with the Presidents of both Guatemala and Mexico to talk about our concern and our interests, recognizing that we are all neighbors in the Western Hemisphere. And just as if you go into any community, what’s going on with your neighbor will affect you. And that is the approach that we have taken.
Coming out of the bilateral meeting that we had in Guatemala, we created a first-ever taskforce that is focused on corruption. I’ve met with civil society within Guatemala so they could also candidly share with me their concerns. We also created a young women’s empowerment initiative that I’m very excited about — and for obvious reasons, probably. We all know why this is an important venture. And also an — a human smuggling and trafficking task force.
In Mexico, the President of Mexico has been very clear that he wants us to be partners on these issues. And we signed a — coming out of the bilateral meeting with President López Obrador, we signed a memorandum of understanding about the investment in resources and priorities that each of our countries will put into addressing the issues in Central America, with a particular focus on Honduras and Guatemala and El Salvador.
I approach our work with two principles: one, that most people do not want to leave home. They don’t want to leave the place where they were raised, the language they know, the culture they know, the church where they go, their abuela. Most people don’t want to leave home. And when they do, it is usually for one of two reasons: because they are fleeing some harm or because to stay at home means that they cannot satisfy the basic needs of their family.
I approach our work with that principle and another principle, which is — and I hope this does not sound trite or corny — that we have the capacity to give people hope and a belief that help is on the way.
And so that — those principles are a large part of what is informing the work that we’ve been doing, addressing the root causes. But today, I want to hear from you. And you are on the ground. You have been on the ground. And it is very important to the President and me that we maintain not only access, but a role for you leaders to participate in our leadership around what needs to be done and what can be done.
So, with that, I thank you all. Again, Bishop, I thank you. If you don’t mind me quoting the scripture —
BISHOP SEITZ: Go for it.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.”
So that is a lot of what informs our work. And, of course, that crosses many things, and let that guide us with our work.
So thank you all. And I will say, I’ll see you all later to the press. And we’re going to start our conversation.
Congresswoman Escobar Statement on Vice President Harris’ Visit to El Paso
Today, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar issued the following statement after hosting Vice President Kamala Harris to El Paso:
“El Paso – America’s new Ellis Island – was ground-zero for the Trump administration’s cruelty at the border, has had to endure the deadly consequences of anti-immigrant rhetoric, and in the face of every challenge, has responded with compassion and goodwill. It is fitting that Vice President Harris accepted my invitation to visit this community as she continues her diplomatic work to address the root causes of migration.
“The highlights of her visit were the conversations she had with El Pasoans – tireless advocates and law enforcement – and with vulnerable young migrant girls seeking a better life. These conversations underscored the importance of border and migrant voices and the progress made by the Biden-Harris administration.
“Addressing America’s immigration challenges and building a fair and humane immigration system doesn’t begin and doesn’t end with Vice President Harris nor at our nation’s front door. It requires Congressional action, a multi-agency approach, international cooperation, and hard work. But I am hopeful now that we have leaders in the White House who are truly interested in addressing our challenges with strategy and humanity. I look forward to our continued work together.”