WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden has tapped Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the White House effort to tackle the migration challenges at the U.S. southern border.
“This increase has been consequential, but the vice president has agreed, among the multiple other things that I have her leading, and I appreciate it, agreed to lead our diplomatic effort and work with those nations to accept the returnees and enhance migration enforcement efforts at their borders,” Biden said when he announced Harris’ new role Wednesday.
Biden, in delegating the matter to Harris, is seeking to replicate a dynamic that played out when he served as President Barack Obama’s vice president. Obama turned to Biden early in his first term to lead the White House effort to draw down U.S. troops in the intractable war in Iraq.
With the move, Biden hopes to show he’s taking the situation seriously after facing stiff criticism from Republicans as the flow of migrants has increased since he took office in January.
While speaking, Biden put some of the blame for the border issues on the Trump administration.
“So, this new surge we’re dealing with now started with the last administration, but it’s our responsibility to deal with it humanely and to stop what’s happening,” said Biden.
He said when he was vice president, he and Obama got a bipartisan agreement to provide over $700 million to the countries in the Northern Triangle of Central America, and determined the best way to keep people from coming to the U.S. was to keep them from wanting to leave their countries.
“Unfortunately, the last administration eliminated that funding, did not engage with it, did not use it, even though there was over $700 million to help get this done,” said Biden. “And we’re re-instituting that program and there are many factors as to why people leave in the first place, but this is the source of one of the reasons why we’ve had such a, before we took office, in the midst of the last administration, a somewhat draconian policy of separating children from their parents, etc.”
Biden said he can’t think of anybody more qualified to head the effort than Harris, who ran the second largest attorney general’s office in the country in California, dealing with human rights and organized crime.
“When she speaks, she speaks for me, doesn’t have to check with me. She knows what she’s doing, and I hope we can move this along,” said Biden.
After thanking the president for having confidence in her, Harris said there’s no question that the work will be challenging.
"As the president has said, there are many factors that lead residents to leave these countries and while we are clear that people should not come to the border now, we also understand that we will enforce the law and that we also, because we can chew gum and walk at the same time, must address the root causes that cause people to make the trek that the president has described to come here,” said Harris.
Harris said she also looks forward to working with Congress to address root causes of the migration issues.
“Needless to say, the work will not be easy, but it is important work. It’s work that we demand, and the people of our countries need to help stem the tide that we have seen,” said Harris.