Vice President Kamala Harris spoke repeatedly about battling the “root causes” of record-breaking illegal immigration during a Thursday trip to Honduras — but Harris said that her efforts are unlikely to alleviate the US-Mexico border crisis “overnight.”
Harris made a point of mentioning migration after critics chided her for not focusing more on the issue since President Biden appointed her last year to lead his administration’s outreach to Mexico and Central America.
The number of illegal border-crossing arrests surged since Harris took on the role. In fiscal 2021, which ended in September, there were more than 1.7 million arrests at the border — the most since at least 1986.
“The root causes strategy has always been clear and we have been clear. The work we need to do is going to be work that will manifest over a long period of time. Hopefully not too long, but certainly not overnight,” Harris told reporters during the trip to attend Honduran President Xiomara Castro’s inauguration.
“The problems that we need to address are problems that did not occur overnight and the solutions if they’re going to have any impact will not occur overnight.”
Harris met with the new Honduras president after the inauguration to talk about reducing the causes of immigration. AP / Erin Schaff
Thousands of Hondurans cheered during Harris’ arrival at a packed sports stadium for Castro’s inauguration. She shared a stage with Spanish King Felipe VI, Taiwanese Vice President William Lai and the leaders of several neighboring countries.
Harris later held a bilateral meeting with Castro where she brought up efforts to reduce causes of migration such as poverty and corruption.
A pool report said journalists were allowed to attend just six minutes of the Harris-Castro meeting, during which Harris also talked about COVID-19 aid.
“You spoke about this in your inaugural address, in terms of the importance of uplifting the economy and what that means to families, what that means in terms of the creation of jobs and what that means on the issue of migration,” Harris told Castro.
Florida Rep. Carlos Gimenez called out Vice President Harris for attending the inauguration, saying “her time would be better spent working around the clock to strengthen our southern border.”AP / Moises Castillo
“I particularly appreciated your point, which you and I have discussed before, which is most people don’t want to leave home. They don’t want to leave the place where they worship, their church, their grandmother. And if they leave it is usually because they are either fleeing harm, or they simply cannot satisfy their basic needs or their family’s needs if they stay,” Harris said.
“Therefore, the area of cooperation and work that we will do together on economic prosperity will be pivotal to that issue, in particular irregular migration. We have also discussed, and you discussed at length in your inaugural speech, the importance of combating corruption.”
A readout of the meeting from Harris’ office said she additionally “emphasized that combating corruption and impunity remains at the center of our commitment to address the root causes of migration.”
That release also said that “Harris stressed the importance the U.S. places on combating sexual, gender-based and domestic violence and how this work is a core pillar of the U.S Strategy for Addressing the Root Causes of Migration in Central America.”
Asylum seekers in Tijuana, Mexico, listen to names being called from a waiting list to claim asylum at a border crossing in San Diego. AP / Elliot Spagat
Critics have accused Harris of largely shirking her duties as Biden’s point person on reducing illegal immigration and Republicans generally urge the Biden administration to adopt stricter border policies to deter people from illegally crossing the border.
Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.) tweeted, “VP Kamala Harris is spending the day in Tegucigalpa celebrating the inauguration of an anti-Semitic, self-described socialist president in Honduras. Her time would be better spent working around the clock to strengthen our southern border. After all, she is the ‘border czar.’ “
Harris last year visited Guatemala and Mexico, but the June trip was overshadowed by her difficulty answering reporters questions about why she hadn’t visited the US-Mexico border. Harris visited the border shortly after that trip.
The VP has taken heat from members of both parties on her work addressing migration. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) recently told the New York Times that he’s given up on trying to work with Harris.
“I say this very respectfully to her: I moved on,” Cuellar said. “She was tasked with that job, it doesn’t look like she’s very interested in this, so we are going to move on to other folks that work on this issue.”