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Kamala Harris makes her first visit to the US-Mexico border as vice president

By Maegan Vazquez, CNN

Vice President Kamala Harris is visiting the southern border in El Paso, Texas, on Friday to visit a migrant processing center, following dogged criticism for not having visited the US-Mexico border and a rocky first foreign trip to Guatemala and Mexico earlier this month.

The vice president is touring the El Paso central processing center, a US Customs and Border Protection Facility, and is expected to speak with migrants there. She will do a walking tour, attend an operational briefing and hold a conversation with advocates from faith-based NGOs and shelter and legal service providers. At the conclusion of her trip, she’ll take questions from the press.

“We are here today to address and to talk about what has brought people to the US border and again to continue to address the root causes that cause people to leave and often flee their home country,” Harris said after arriving on Friday morning.

Harris is accompanied on the trip by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin and Democratic Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar.

The visit to El Paso comes amid a smattering of criticism that’s followed Harris since being tasked by President Joe Biden with leading diplomatic efforts in the Northern Triangle to address immigration.

Harris endured a rocky first foreign trip — her two-day swing through Mexico and Guatelmala — with sources telling CNN at the time that the trip left some officials perplexed about her bumpy answers to questions about whether she will go to the border.

“At some point, you know, we are going to the border,” Harris said in an interview with NBC News while on the Central America trip. “We’ve been to the border. So this whole, this whole, this whole thing about the border. We’ve been to the border. We’ve been to the border.”

But when pressed on the fact that she still had not visited the border, Harris responded, “… and I haven’t been to Europe. And I mean, I don’t — I don’t understand the point that you’re making,” Harris said with a laugh, adding, “I’m not discounting the importance of the border.”

That answer only intensified GOP criticism of her absence at the border.

Asked on Friday why now was the right time to come to the border, Harris said it was important she visit Guatemala and Mexico before visiting the border to build off of those meetings addressing the root causes of migration.

“Being in Guatemala, being in Mexico, and talking with Mexico as a partner, frankly on the issue, was about addressing the causes. And then coming to the border at the advice and actually the invitation of the congresswoman, is about looking at the effects of what we have seen happening in Central America, and so I’m glad to be here. This was always the plan to come here,” she said.

When asked if the border trip was essentially the administration bowing down to pressure from Republicans, Harris’ chief spokesperson, Symone Sanders, told reporters on a call Thursday evening that “this administration does not take their cues from Republican criticism, nor from the former President of the United States of America.”

“We have said over a number of different occasions … that she would go to the border. She has been before, she would go again. She would go when it was appropriate, when it made sense. And this trip tomorrow, this timing, is what made sense for the vice president’s schedule, but also, for our partners on the ground,” Sanders added.

Sanders called the visit part of a “cause and effect” strategy, labeling Harris’ efforts in Guatemala and Mexico as addressing the cause and her upcoming visit to the border as addressing the effect. That’s despite months of countering from aides both publicly and privately that Harris’ focus is not the border.

Officials have also indicated that the trip will draw a contrast with the Trump administration’s immigration and border policies, with Sanders on Thursday calling El Paso the “birthplace” of the Trump administration’s family separation policy, pointing to a 2017 pilot program.

A record number of unaccompanied children crossed into the US this spring, further intensifying GOP criticism of the Biden administration’s handling. CBP encountered more than 180,000 migrants at the southern border in May, putting the US on track to surpass the number of border crossings in fiscal year 2019.

Mayorkas said Friday the administration has made “extraordinary progress” dealing with the situation at the border since March.

While in West Texas, Harris will not visit nearby Fort Bliss, where migrant children who crossed the US-Mexico border alone are still spending prolonged time in temporary government facilities, raising concerns among attorneys, who say the conditions are inadequate for kids.

Tyler Moran, special assistant to the president for immigration for the Domestic Policy Council at the White House, noted on Thursday’s call with reporters that improvements have been made at the facility, including the addition of 50 mental health professionals on site and increases to case management services.

“The administration is concerned by these reports and we do know that HHS has taken steps to address them. We are taking this very seriously. This is serious for the President and the vice president. And we know it’s important to HHS to get to the bottom of this and ensure that the highest standards are being upheld,” Sanders added.

Asked about Harris’ upcoming trip, Biden said on Thursday that Harris has “done a great job so far.”

“(T)he reason why it’s important that she go down, she’s now set up the criteria, having spoken with the president of Mexico and Guatemala, visited the region, to know what we need to do,” Biden told reporters in the White House East Room.

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Jasmine Wright, Priscilla Alvarez and Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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