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Biden Taps Harris to Lead Response to Immigration Crisis on the Southern Border

Customs and Border Patrol at Southern Border - CBP Postponement of Import Duty, Tax, and Fee Payments for COVID-19 Impacted Businesses and Unaccompanied Children

President Joe Biden announced yesterday that he has appointed Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the administration’s efforts to stem the flow of migrants seeking entry into the United States. As the number seeking to cross the U.S. southern border continues to soar, Harris will address this issue by seeking cooperation with Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries.

According to a senior administration official, Harris will lead the White House focus on immigration issues in Mexico and the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras), so it will be clear that “there is one single figure dedicated to this effort.” This announcement came after Biden and Harris met with Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra, Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, and other immigration advisers.

“I have asked her, the VP, today, because she is the most qualified person to do it, to lead our efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle and the countries that are going to need help in stemming the movement of so many folks, stemming the migration to our southern border,” Biden said.

Harris’s Response to the Immigration Crisis at the Southern Border

“While we are clear that people should not come to the border now, we also understand that we will enforce the law and that we also — because we can chew gum and walk at the same time — must address the root causes that cause people to make the trek, as the president has described, to come here,” Harris said.

“I look forward to engaging in diplomacy with government, with private sector, with civil society, and the leaders of each in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to strengthen democracy and the rule of law and ensure shared prosperity in the region.” Harris further urged everyone to be patient, saying that “It’s going to take some time.”

Steps Taken by the Administration to Curtail Flow of Migrants

Harris’s work is expected to run along two tracks, said a White House official. The first is to address the swell of migrants entering the U.S. at the southern border, and the second is to build long-term partnerships with the Central American countries that people are fleeing. “She’ll work first on the goal of stemming the flow of irregular migrants to the U.S. … but at the same time, the real goal is to establish a strategic partnership with these countries based on respect and shared values,” the official said.

To manage the surge in migrants, the administration has opened new facilities – including a tent city in Midland, Texas, and a Convention Center in Dallas. Biden has promised to invest $4 billion in the Northern Triangle to address root causes of migration, including economic problems, ongoing violence, climate change, and worsening government corruption. This money is yet to be appropriated by Congress.

The pandemic is also complicating the situation. HHS confirmed that since March, 24 unaccompanied minors were tested positive for COVID. HHS released data that 2,587 children were released from medical isolation and 1,819 have moved from isolation and have since been discharged to a sponsor.

Surge in Immigrants Showing up at the Southern Border

Since the Biden administration came to power, the number of immigrants making the dangerous journey across Mexico and trying to enter the U.S. has soared. The administration turned down many thousands of migrants. But the administration is accepting unaccompanied minors, who have arrived in record numbers. Currently, the administration says the U.S. has custody of 15,000 migrant children for whom housing and care must be provided.

Thousands of children are being housed at the Border Patrol cells, which are originally meant for adult detention. These facilities are over-crowded, and pictures show children sleeping in packed cells on hard floors. The administration is trying its best to move these children out of Border Patrol facilities and transferring them into housing overseen by HHS. In HHS, children will be provided education, health, and legal services.

The Root Cause Behind Migrants Fleeing from Central American Countries

Migrants are fleeing Central American countries including Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, due to economic instability, gang violence, corruption, domestic violence, and the havoc caused by extreme weather conditions. While some are merely crossing the border for a better life, many are also fleeing out of fear of persecution by their oppressors.

Administration officials said that the long-term goal to address the surge of migrants fleeing their country is to combat corruption, enforcing border security, implementing good governance practices, overseeing diplomatic efforts, as well as other long-term strategies. Solving these issues will mean going into the “root causes of migration.”

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