- Vice President Kamala Harris made her first visit as vice president to the U.S.-Mexico border Friday.
- Harris said her trip highlights the human suffering that is the root cause of a surge in undocumented migrants from Central America.
- Republicans have criticized Harris for not visiting the border sooner. Former President Donald Trump plans to travel there on June 30.
Vice President Kamala Harris made her first visit as vice president to the U.S.-Mexico border on Friday, where she toured immigration facilities and met with young women.
Speaking to reporters after her tour, Harris said the border trip reinforced the need to address the root causes of the surge in undocumented migrants from Central America.
"The lack of economic opportunity, very often violence, corruption and food insecurity," said Harris, "including the fear of cartels, and gang violence."
"The work that we have to do is the work of addressing the root causes, otherwise we'll continue to see the effect, what is happening at the border," she said. "It's going to require, as we have been doing, a comprehensive approach that acknowledges each piece of this."
Earlier this year, President Joe Biden tasked Harris with working to address these root causes. In June she visited Guatemala and Mexico, where she delivered a blunt message to potential migrants.
"I want to be clear to folks in the region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come. Do not come," Harris said at a press conference in Guatemala on June 7. "I believe if you come to our border, you will be turned back."
Harris had faced a drumbeat of criticism from Republicans in recent weeks for not having personally visited the U.S.-Mexico border yet.
The White House said Harris was always planning to make the trip at the right time. But the choice of June 25 may have been influenced by former President Donald Trump's announcement on Tuesday that he would visit the border June 30 with Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott.
One day after Trump announced his upcoming trip, the White House said Harris would visit the border on June 25. Harris' trip caught the White House press corps by surprise. Typically, the West Wing aides tell a small group of reporters about presidential and vice presidential travel plans at least a week in advance, so that news outlets have enough time to arrange their coverage.
Harris on Friday denied that Trump's plans had any influence on her schedule.
"I said back in March I was going to come to the border, so this is not a new plan," Harris told reporters after landing in Texas. "Coming to the border ... is about looking at the effects of what we have seen happening in Central America."
But the White House said the choice of El Paso for her visit had, in fact, been influenced by the former president. In his 2019 State of the Union address, Trump claimed that his border wall had transformed El Paso from a crime-ridden city to a safe one, angering residents.
Biden and Harris have faced criticism for rolling back restrictive Trump-era immigration policies even as migrant detentions at the U.S.-Mexico border have reached 20-year highs in recent months.
Immigration remains a hot-button issue for both parties. Democrats and pro-immigrant activists have pressed Biden to further scale back enforcement and ensure humane treatment of migrant children and families arriving at the border.
White House officials have for months said Harris' efforts to stem immigration from Central America are focused on diplomacy and are distinct from the security issues at the border.
"The vice president's trip to Guatemala and Mexico earlier this year was about the root causes, and this border visit is about the effects," her spokesperson Symone Sanders told reporters on Thursday. "Both trips will inform the administration's root causes strategy."
— Reuters correspondent Nandita Bose contributed to this report.