Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday visited a Border Patrol station in El Paso, Texas, for the first time since she was tapped months ago by President Joe Biden to be the administration's “border czar” to solve the immigration crisis.
Harris faced criticism this week for going to El Paso instead of the Rio Grande Valley where communities are most affected by the migrant surge.
For her part, Harris defended her decision to go to El Paso, telling reporters at a news conference at the airport that her trip wasn't a check the box visit to the border, as some Democratic lawmakers have suggested.
"What is happening here in El Paso ... in many ways highlights many of the facets on the issue of immigration," the vice president asserted.
She also implored people to recognize the humanity of those fleeing their home countries to immigrate to the U.S., even if they are doing so illegally.
"We have to address ... the root causes, otherwise we'll continue to see the effect [of] what is happening at the border," said Harris in her address to reporters, adding that it will take a comprehensive approach. ... "Not only do we have a reason to concern ourselves with the root cause issues, because of what we see at the border, but also because we live in that neighborhood — the Western Hemisphere."
Harris, who didn't address border security, said migrants are often fleeing violence, corruption, food insecurity, gang violence and cartels.
"Let's not lose sight of the fact that we are talking about human beings. Let's not lose sight of the fact that we're talking about stories ... that involve horrendous tales of abuse and fear and harm. Not only for folks ... in their home country experiencing that, but along the part of their migration," she added.
Other officials who traveled with Harris included Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, condemned Harris for visiting El Paso, which is approximately 790 miles from regions in Texas where the crisis is most severe, such as in McAllen, Texas.
“Chicago, Illinois, is closer to Washington, D.C., than El Paso is to McAllen. And so she’s going to where the height of the problem isn’t,” Cruz said on Fox News’ “America Reports” Thursday.
“... Kamala, you need to go to McAllen …,” Cruz implored. “You need to look at the children in cages that you and Joe Biden put there in a way that is endangering their safety.”
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said Harris’ trip to the border is a “first step,” but the Rio Grande area needs her attention more and is a true picture of the border crisis.
“I’m glad that she’s going down to the border because that is part of her job portfolio, and No. 2, yes, the epicenter is down there in the lower Rio Grande in the lower part of the district down there. If you look at the numbers down there compared to El Paso, you’re not going to get a true picture of what’s happening,” Cuellar told Fox News.
Cuellar suggested that Harris needed to meet with local residents, city and county officials, and the “brave men and women in green and in blue, our border control agents, so they don’t just get a pat on the back, but they get reinforcements and support down there.”
Cuellar said he has extended an invitation to Harris to visit the border with him but has yet to receive a response.
He described Harris’ visit to El Paso as a “check the box” visit and a “politically safer” option since it will not show the true nature of the border crisis in the Rio Grande Valley area, where conditions are most severe.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement that Harris is "ignoring the real problem areas" of the border not protected by the border wall and "are being overrun by the federal government's ill-thought-out open border policies."
"She will fail in her mission if she refuses to speak to residents of the Del Rio sector whose homes and ranches are being overrun by gangs and smugglers," the Republican governor said.
"The Vice President was named Border Czar over 90 days ago, and in that time Texans have had their homes broken into, property damaged, and guns pointed at their heads as cartels, smugglers, and human traffickers profit off the Biden Administration’s reckless open-border policies," he continued. "I launched Operation Lone Star in March to combat this record-high influx of people and crime, and since then DPS has arrested over 1,700 criminals, apprehended over 41,000 migrants, and seized enough fentanyl to kill over 21 million people."
"Texas has been and continues to step up to protect Texans and Americans," Abbott said.
When Fox News’ Peter Doocy asked Harris why this was her first trip to the border, she snapped back, saying, "It’s not my first trip, I’ve been to the border many times," referring to visits she made to the border as a senator.
Congressional Republicans claim former President Donald Trump’s upcoming trip to the border is what prompted Harris to visit, but the vice president’s office claims Republican pressure was not what led her to take the trip, Fox News reported.
Harris was greeted by dozens of protestors with signs proclaiming, “Kamala, you know Trump won,” “How many little girls need to be raped for this to become a crisis,” “‘Que Mala’ Hates Mexicans,” “Kamala do you hear their screams,” and “Latinos for Trump.”
Earlier this month, former ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley slammed Harris for not visiting the border, suggesting it was a sign that “clearly” the vice president is “fearful” of visiting the southern border.
“And any leader knows you can’t fix what you can’t see,” Haley said on June 9. “She hasn’t been on the ground. She hasn’t talked to Border Patrol. She doesn’t know what is happening there.”
In efforts to help solve some of the “root problems” of the border crisis, Harris recently visited Mexico and Guatemala, where she urged immigrants, “do not come, do not come.”
Guatemala President Alejandro Giammattei told "Face The Nation" that the increased border crossings have been caused partly by the Biden administration's policies.
"The message changed to, 'We are going to reunite families, and we are going to reunite children," Giammattei said. "The very next day, the coyotes were here organizing groups of children to take them to the United States. We asked the United States government to send more of a clear message to prevent people from leaving."
Harris has previously dodged questions regarding her plans to visit the southern border as pressure for her visit has built over the past three months.
On June 8, she quipped, “and I haven’t been to Europe,” when NBC’s Lester Holt asked if she had plans to visit the U.S.-Mexico border.
Emily Wood is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org