Who’s afraid of the big, bad border? Vice President Kamala Harris, apparently.
Who can blame her? The U.S.-Mexico border is a nightmare for politicians, a dark place bereft of what they crave: simple answers. Above all, the border is a stark reminder that, despite its rhetoric, the new administration bears a striking resemblance to the last one when it comes to migrants and refugees.
Still, Harris has to visit the border. Because she’s vice president and what’s happening on the border is a national crisis, whether or not the White House uses that term, with international repercussions. And because her boss put her in charge of solving this crisis.
On March 25, during his first news conference, President Biden announced that Harris was going to be his point person to help him clean up the border mess:
“I’ve asked the Vice President of the United States to be the lead person on dealing with focusing on the fundamental reasons why people leave Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador in the first place,” Biden said. “It’s because of earthquakes, floods. It’s because of lack of food. It’s because of gang violence. It’s because of a whole range of things.”
Biden is right that this crisis is happening because of a whole range of things, not all of them under America’s control. But Harris can’t begin to understand the extent of the crisis unless she sees firsthand what’s occurring on the border.
Nearly a month after being named “lead person,” Harris hasn’t gone anywhere near the border, which represents ground zero in the debate over what to do with tens of thousands of Central Americans seeking refugee status who have shown up at America’s front door uninvited—as refugees do.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador used the occasion of a virtual climate summit convened by Biden to unveil a new migration proposal involving Mexico, Central America, and the United States that López Obrador claims would also protect the environment.
Naturally. Mexicans always do the dirty jobs that Americans won’t do. That extends to solving the refugee crisis, apparently.
AMLO wants to put Central American migrants who are fleeing violence— and Mexicans who want to emigrate to the United States for economic reasons—to work planting trees in Central America and Southeastern Mexico for three years in return for a six-month U.S. work visa and a path to U.S. citizenship. The Mexican president claims that—with funding from the United States—the effort could result in the planting of 3 billion trees and the creation of 1.2 million jobs.
That’s a twist on globalization, eh? Americans in Rust Belt states like Ohio and Michigan have long complained that jobs are leaving the United States for Mexico. Now AMLO is offering people jobs in Mexico in exchange for a shot at legally entering the United States.
Lopez Obrador’s proposal seems self-serving and half-baked. Still, at least it’s an idea.
And, when it comes to the refugee crisis, we’ve seen precious few of those coming from the Biden administration.
Meanwhile, Harris’ political instincts must be telling here that she has to be careful what kind of imagery ammunition she gives to Republicans. The last thing she wants is to get caught on camera against the backdrop of migrant kids stuffed into overcrowded glass holding pens.
Watching from a distance means she hasn’t had to stare into the eyes of the more than 20,000 children and teenagers languishing in U.S. custody for longer than the 72 hours permitted by law. So far, she hasn’t investigated troubling allegations about the sexual assault of incarcerated youth—either by one another, or authorities supervising them. She hasn’t had to peer into the giant aquariums that warehouse hundreds of unaccompanied minors. Most of all, Harris hasn’t had to admit that the administration’s response to the crisis is improvised, nor has she offered real solutions to this recurring problem.
It’s not just Harris who is failing this course. The whole Biden administration is clueless about immigration and the border—including the two Latinos also tasked with tackling the crisis, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.
A recent Quinnipiac University national poll of adults found that Biden has a 48 percent approval rating overall, but that—with regard to the situation on the U.S.-Mexico border—that figure plunges to just 29 percent.
Still, Harris wins the prize for cluelessness. This has never been one of her issues, even though it should be given that she is a former senator from the border state of California, which is now 40 percent Latino.
Sorry, immigration, she’s just not that into you.
Instead, the vice president is satisfied to view the border crisis from 50,000 feet aboard Air Force Two when she visits “as soon as possible” a pair of countries in Latin America.
Harris recently informed a virtual roundtable of experts on Central America that she will travel to Mexico and Guatemala to “deal with the root causes” of why tens of thousands of desperate people pour out of three counties—Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador—every few years.
To lay the groundwork for that trip—now planned for June—Harris is scheduled to have a “virtual meeting” on Monday with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei.
As someone who has covered the immigration issue for 30 years, I’m a big fan of attacking the “root causes.” Of course, in my lexicon, the phrase refers not just to poverty, corruption and desperation in Latin America but also to the jobs that are so willingly offered by Americans to anyone with brown skin, a strong work ethic, and a willingness to work for wages others will not. We can talk about the push factors that propel these people away from their countries, but we can’t forget the pull factors that lure them to this country.
And while Harris focuses on the “root causes,” she’s being upstaged by clowns, charlatans, and opportunists in the Republican party.
Recently, 19 GOP senators led by Ted Cruz made a trip to the border so they could tweet photos, visit with border patrol agents, and pretend to care about the plight of brown people.
It’s surreal. The GOP has spent decades carrying water for big business by keeping the border cracked open just enough to let in a steady flow of cheap labor. Many of the folks who provided that labor now live in the United States, where they await the arrival of family members from Central America. And like OJ Simpson vowing to search for the real killer, Republican senators put on khakis and plaid shirts and go down to the border to look for answers about what caused the crisis they helped create.
But at least they went. It’s not easy to appear less caring and less compassionate than Ted Cruz, but Kamala Harris is pulling it off.