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United States

Biden taps VP Harris to lead response to border challenges

Published:Thursday | March 25, 2021 | 12:16 AM
US Vice-President Kamala Harris.
US Vice-President Kamala Harris.

WASHINGTON (AP):

President Joe Biden has tapped Vice-President Kamala Harris to lead the White House effort to tackle the migration challenge at the US southern border.

Biden made the announcement as he and Harris met at the White House on Wednesday with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandra Mayorkas and other immigration advisers to discuss the increase in migrants, including many unaccompanied minors, arriving at the border in recent weeks.

In delegating the matter to Harris, Biden is seeking to replicate a dynamic that played out when he served as President Barack Obama’s vice-president. Obama turned to Biden early in his first term to lead the White House’s effort to draw down US troops in the intractable war in Iraq.

“When she speaks, she speaks for me,” Biden said, noting that her past work as California’s attorney general makes her specially equipped to lead the administration’s response.

Biden is hoping to show Americans he’s taking the border situation seriously after facing stiff criticism from Republicans, as the flow of migrants has increased since he took office in January. The growing humanitarian and political challenge at the US-Mexico border threatens to overshadow the administration’s ambitious legislative agenda.

‘TOUGH JOB’

But the high-profile assignment for Harris, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 and is expected to run for the White House again in the future, could be politically fraught.

To that end, Biden teased in his comments that he was saddling her with a “tough job”.

“Needless to say, the work will not be easy,” Harris said about her new assignment. “But it is important work.”

Harris is tasked with overseeing diplomatic efforts to deal with issues spurring migration in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, as well as pressing them to strengthen enforcement on their own borders, administration officials said. More broadly, though, she’s tasked with implementing a long-term strategy that gets at the root causes of migration from those countries.

She will work closely with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the yet-to-be confirmed US Agency for International Development administrator Samantha Powers, and Ricardo Zúñiga, special envoy to the Northern Triangle countries.

Biden made the announcement as a delegation of White House officials and members of Congress was travelling to the southern border on Wednesday to tour a facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, being used to house migrant children.

More than 750 teenagers are being held at Carrizo Springs. Like other facilities operated by the Health and Human Services Department, it includes a small group of children who have tested positive for COVID-19, potentially having contracted the virus in Border Patrol custody. They are placed in isolation.