Though Kamala Harris is the White House’s point person on the U.S.-Mexico border crisis, press secretary Jen Psaki claimed Monday that the vice president’s focus is not on the border, but instead on the “root causes” of migration.
Harris, whom President Biden has appointed to lead the White House’s efforts to get a handle on the situation at the border, said recently that she has not visited the region due to “COVID issues.”
Asked during a press briefing what she was referring to, Psaki said she would “have to ask her team about that specifically, but I would tell you also that her focus is not on the border.”
“It’s on addressing the root causes in the Northern Triangle,” Psaki said. “That’s why the majority of her time has been spent on working … on a diplomatic level.”
The press secretary noted that Harris is set to have a bilateral meeting with the president of Guatemala on Monday and is set to speak with the president of Mexico next week.
“She’s working with them to ensure there are systems put in place to reduce the amount of migration coming from these countries but also to address the root causes and that’s really what the president has asked her to do,” Psaki said.
Asked if there are concerns specific to border travel over other travel Harris has undertaken recently, Psaki noted that a presidential or vice-presidential trip to the facilities can be disruptive.
“The reason we have been so focused on expediting moving kids out of these border patrol facilities is because we want to reduce the public health impact in these facilities and get them into spaces where we can do social distancing and where we can ensure these kids have access to health and medical experts and education resources and we’ve made some progress on that front even over the past few weeks,” she said.
She continued: “If a president or a vice president goes down and visits a facility like this you have to potentially clear some parts out, there’s a lot of security that comes. Our focus here is on solutions, on making progress, on moving these kids out of these facilities, on getting connected with sponsor homes, with family members, if possible.”
More than 170,000 people were apprehended crossing the border illegally in March, breaking a 15-year record.
Psaki’s comments come after Harris said that she approaches the immigration crisis with the perspective that “most people don’t want to leave home,” during an interview with CNN’s State of the Union that aired Sunday.
“Most people don’t want to leave home and when they do, it’s usually for one of two reasons: they’re fleeing some harm or they cannot stay and satisfy the basic necessities of life,” she said.
“I look at the issue of what’s going on in the Northern Triangle from that perspective,” Harris said. “And then my take on it is that we’ve got to understand that. We have to give people some sense of hope that if they stay that help is on the way.”
She said the Commerce Department will be convening a trade mission and the Department of Agriculture will be helping farmers in the Northern Triangle region who have been affected by the drought.
“This is the kind of work that has to happen. The kind of work that has to happen is the diplomatic work that we’ve been engaged in, including my calls to the president of Mexico, the president of Guatemala,” Harris said. She added that she would be meeting with the respective presidents, possibly in person, saying the meetings couldn’t happen “soon enough.”