Kamala Harris under pressure to visit US-Mexico border

media captionKamala Harris to illegal migrants: 'Do not come'

Vice-President Kamala Harris is under pressure to visit the US-Mexico border as she targets illegal immigration on her first official foreign trip.

Ms Harris had a testy exchange with a cable anchor who asked why she had not gone to the US' southern boundary.

Members of her own Democratic party meanwhile assailed Ms Harris for advising against illegal immigration.

Some 178,000 undocumented migrants arrived at the border this April, the highest total in more than two decades.

The vice-president's staff initially said the border was part of Ms Harris' portfolio when US President Joe Biden assigned her in March to stem migration from Latin America. But the aides have recently been seeking to distance her from the politically toxic crisis.

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Asked in an interview with NBC News aired on Tuesday morning whether she had any plans to visit the border, Ms Harris threw her arms up as she responded: "At some point. You know… we are going to the border. We have been to the border."

When the host pointed out that she had not herself visited the region, she deflected the question with a laugh, saying: "And I haven't been to Europe. I don't understand the point you're making."

image copyrightReutersimage captionChildren detained at a holding facility for undocumented migrants in Donna, Texas, in March

Ms Harris again brushed off questions about why she had not gone to the border as she spoke to reporters on Tuesday in Mexico.

"It would be very easy to say," she said, "we'll travel to one place and therefore it's solved. I don't think anybody thinks that that would be the solution."

Pressed again on why she would not visit the border, Ms Harris said she had done when she was a senator for California.

Ms Harris' remarks came at the end of a two-day visit to Guatemala and Mexico, where she met both countries' presidents in a bid to bolster diplomatic ties and help tackle undocumented migration to the US.

At the White House daily briefing on Tuesday, Biden spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked why Ms Harris had not visited the US-Mexico boundary.

"I think that at some point she may go to the border," Ms Psaki said. "We'll see."

Kamala Harris' inconsistent message

For as much as she may be coming under pressure to visit the border back at home, it's what she said earlier on this trip which is causing dismay in Central America. Specifically her stark warning that would-be migrants "do not come" – three words she repeated for added emphasis.

A wide array of activists, human rights lawyers and journalists have pointed out the inconsistency in such a message. First, they say, it fails to take into account the reality on the ground for so many millions of the poorest in Central America. Battered by hurricanes, hunger, natural disaster, climate change and coronavirus, the economic downturn in the region could last for many years. That's to mention nothing of the rampant gang violence and forced recruitment of vulnerable young people in the region.

Added to that, her statement appeared to ignore the fact that requesting asylum is a legal right, one which Ms Harris had berated the Trump administration for undermining while she was a candidate. More than one observer has commented on how it was particularly jarring to hear it from the vice-president, as the daughter of immigrants herself.

In Mexico, the focus shifted to broader bilateral issues: the economy, security co-operation, development plans for southern Mexico and Central America. Yet immigration remains the overriding concern for the Biden administration in this part of the world. For as much as both countries spoke at length of "orderly, safe and regular migration flows" or tackling the "root causes of migration", most people will remember Vice-President Harris' first international trip for those three short words: "Do not come".

Why are fellow Democrats criticising Harris?

On Monday she visited Guatemala, where she had a message for undocumented migrants: "Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our borders."

She added: "If you come to our border, you will be turned back."

  • Harris tells Guatemala migrants: 'Do not come'
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The remarks drew arch comments from her regular Republican critics, but also provoked rare rebukes from left-wing members of her own party.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York City congresswoman, called the remark "disappointing".

"First, seeking asylum at any US border is a 100% legal method of arrival," the influential New York congresswoman tweeted.

"Second, the US spent decades contributing to regime change and destabilisation in Latin America. We can't help set someone's house on fire and then blame them for fleeing."

image copyrightGetty Imagesimage captionA man detained in Arizona wears a t-shirt saying "please let us in"

Fellow members of her ultraliberal group known as the Squad, also criticised Ms Harris, who is herself the daughter migrants – an Indian-born mother and a Jamaican-born father.

"The right to seek asylum is not just legally protected. It is a foundational universal human right," tweeted Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who was born in Somalia.

Michigan's Rashida Tlaib also hit out at Ms Harris, writing: "This whole 'stay there and die' approach is not how our country will promote a more humane and just immigration system."

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