Vice President Kamala Harris speaks as US President Joe Biden looks on during a listening session with Georgia Asian American and Pacific Islander community leaders at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia on March 19, 2021.
Eric Baradat | AFP | Getty Images
President Joe Biden, whose administration is grappling with overcrowding at migrant facilities on the southern border, tasked Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday with leading efforts to coordinate with Mexico and the Central American nations of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
The assignment marks Harris’ first major policy role since she was sworn in in January.
“I can think of nobody who is better qualified to do this” than Harris, the president said at the White House. “When she speaks, she speaks for me, doesn’t have to check with me.”
The vice president will work to stem the flow of people coming to the border, thousands of whom are unaccompanied children. Biden, among other reversals of Trump-era immigration policies, ended the prior administration’s practice of expelling unaccompanied minors.
But the recent increase in migrants has quickly overwhelmed border patrol stations and processing facilities, which are grappling with backlogs and overcrowding.
Harris this week called the situation at the border “a huge problem.”
“The surge we’re dealing with now started [with] the last administration, but it’s our responsibility to deal with it humanely and to stop what’s happening,” Biden said Wednesday. “This increase has been consequential.”
He said that Harris has “agreed to lead our diplomatic effort and work with those nations to accept [returning migrants] and enhance migration enforcement at their borders.”
Harris thanked Biden for his “confidence.”
“The work will not be easy, but it is important work,” she said. “It is work that we demand and the people of our countries, I believe, need to help stem the tide that we have seen.”
Beyond the short-term challenges, Harris will work to strengthen diplomatic ties with Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to address the root causes of the region’s migrant problems, senior administration officials said.
She also plans to coordinate with international organizations and private-sector entities as part of her efforts, the officials said.
Harris spoke Wednesday with Ricardo Zuniga, Biden’s new special envoy for the Northern Triangle, and will work closely with him, they said. The Northern Triangle refers to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
At the White House, Biden said that Harris’ prior experience as attorney general of California made her well-suited for this new responsibility.
Still, he acknowledged to Harris that “I gave you a tough job.”