WASHINGTON — Vice President Kamala Harris defended her decision not to visit the U.S.-Mexico border despite the humanitarian crisis in an interview that aired Tuesday, saying her focus on the root causes of migration is the key to stemming the flow of undocumented immigrants.
“We have to understand that there’s a reason people are arriving at our border and ask what is that reason and then identify the problems so we can fix it,” Harris said in an excerpt of an interview with "Nightly News" anchor Lester Holt during her trip to Guatemala that aired on the "Today" show.
The vice president attributed the decisions of migrants to flee their home countries to extreme hardships caused by drought and hurricanes, the coronavirus pandemic and longstanding issues of corruption and violence.
The administration is taking a multifaceted approach to the issue, she said, citing her efforts to convene some of the largest corporations and philanthropic groups to see the opportunities and moral obligations in the region and to invite allies like Japan and South Korea to get involved.
The vice president noted that the administration announced last week that it would send 500,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines to Guatemala, and she said she’s working with U.S. corporations to help people connect to technology. She said, for example, that she has asked Microsoft to partner with the federal government to help people in Guatemala and elsewhere gain access to banking systems. They are also working with Mastercard, she said, on similar issues to give people direct access to banking mechanisms “so they don't have to go through corrupt institutions.”
While Harris said she didn’t disagree that work needs to happen at the border, “that can't be the only way that we deal with the issue, which we know is an issue that is not only about effect but causation. And the causation piece is significant.”
"There's not going to be a quick fix” to the border situation, and the U.S. won’t “see an immediate return” as a result of actions taken by the administration, she said.
“The real work is going to take time to manifest itself,” Harris said. “Will it be worth it? Yes. Will it take some time? Yes.”
Harris said “at some point” she would visit the southwest border, although she did not specify a time. In late March, President Joe Biden tasked Harris with leading efforts to stem migration into the U.S. from Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Republicans have criticized Harris for not visiting the border during the crisis, a point Holt raised in the interview, noting that Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, had urged Biden and Harris to make the trip.
While neither the president nor the vice president have gone to the southwest border, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, senior domestic policy adviser Susan Rice and other administration officials have paid visits to border facilities and refugee shelters there.
“Listen, I care about what's happening on the border,” Harris told Holt. “I’m in Guatemala because my focus is dealing with the root causes of migration. There may be some who think that that is not important, but it is my firm belief that if we care about what's happening at the border, we better care about the root causes and address that.”
During her trip to Guatemala on Monday, Harris outlined a number of new steps to address those root causes, including coordination among the Treasury, State and Justice departments to train local law enforcement personnel and support Guatemalan prosecutors in anti-corruption efforts. She also delivered a message to people contemplating the trek across the border into the U.S.
"Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border," said Harris, who arrived in Mexico Tuesday for the next leg of her foreign trip.
Voting rights legislation
During the interview, Harris reiterated the need for the Senate to pass a sweeping Democratic elections and ethics overhaul bill dubbed the For the People Act, which Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said over the weekend that he will oppose along with Republicans, effectively killing the measure.
“We're very clear. We need to pass these pieces of legislation,” Harris said.
Harris said that the issue of voting reforms should be “non-partisan” because all voters would be negatively affected by GOP voting laws that would “impede people to vote” by limiting early voting, voting by mail, voting hours and the number of drop boxes for ballots.
“That's going to hurt every voter,” she said. “That's going to hurt every voter.”