I have previously written about President Biden’s March 24 appointment of Vice President Kamala Harris as the (sort of) “border czar”. The question is, what exactly is she doing? The answer is that it does not seem like she is doing much, as the crisis at the border degrades quickly.
Here are Biden’s exact words:
I’ve asked her, the VP, today — because she’s the most qualified person to do it — to lead our efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle and the countries that help — are going to need help in stemming the movement of so many folks, stemming the migration to our southern border.
[T]his increase has been consequential, but the Vice President has agreed — among the multiple other things that I have her leading — and I appreciate it — agreed to lead our diplomatic effort and work with those nations to accept re- — the returnees, and enhance migration enforcement at their borders — at their borders.
With a reported 171,000 migrants having been “encountered” at the Southwest border in March (including “more than 18,800 unaccompanied minors” and “more than 53,000” adults travelling with children), there are logically more than a few “returnees” that we would be asking Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras “to accept”.
So, Vice President Harris must have been pretty busy in the last two weeks. Except, recent reports suggest that not to have been the case.
The Daily Mail reported on April 7 that the vice president has not actually been to the border in the past fortnight (despite spending five days this month in her home state of California, which is a border state), “or even h[e]ld a press conference about her new duties in the two weeks since being tasked with addressing the migrant crisis”.
She did have a phone call with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on March 30, in which Harris “reaffirmed the administration’s commitment to working together and expanding partnerships to benefit the people of the region” and “discussed the significant risks to those leaving their homes and making the dangerous journey to the United States, especially during a global pandemic”.
I would assume that President Giammattei was already aware of the dangers of illegal entry (which have been well documented), but it does not appear that Harris extracted a commitment from the president to stem the flow of migrants from his country.
As for the vice president’s “reaffirm[ation] of the administration’s commitment to working together” and “expanding partnerships”, Giammattei probably did not need much encouragement, as 26 days earlier he had a phone call with President Biden along roughly the same lines.
Specifically, during that call, Biden and Giammattei “reaffirmed their commitment to addressing the root causes of migration by combating corruption, promoting economic opportunity, and enhancing civilian security.”
The White House readout of that March 4 call ended: “Both Presidents agreed for their respective teams to meet in the coming weeks to develop an effective and humane plan of action to manage migration.” It does not seem like there was a lot of planning in advance of Harris’s March 30 call, although “The Vice President ... thanked President Giammattei for his efforts to secure Guatemala’s southern border.”
The Guatemalan president did, in fact, decree a “state of prevention” along his country’s border with Honduras on March 29 (his second since January), “amid reports that a new migrant caravan may be forming in Honduras”. That said, it would have been better for Harris had she spoken to Giammattei before he took this step, given the parlous and chaotic state of the U.S. Southwest border.
Aside from that phone call, however, the Daily Mail reports that the vice president has not done anything else related to her new commission.
CNN Politics, in an article that can only be described as defending the vice president (it is captioned “Kamala Harris dives into migration diplomacy as GOP aims to make her the face of the border crisis”), contends: “While aides work in the background, Harris has been busy getting up to speed on the region's specifics.”
That statement itself is a little confusing, because as a senator, she sat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (in which she would have been regularly briefed on global developments) and the Senate Committee on the Judiciary (which has jurisdiction over immigration, a big issue in Central America).
And in March 2014, then-California state Attorney General Kamala Harris authored a 118-page report captioned “Gangs Beyond Borders, California and the Fight Against Transnational Organized Crime”. That report went into detail about Mexican-based drug cartels, transnational gangs (including MS-13 and the 18th Street gang), and “the trafficking of drugs, weapons and human beings”.
Given that most of the migrants claiming asylum at the Southwest border allege that they are fleeing corruption and gang violence (and that smuggling is facilitated by Mexican drug cartels), you would figure that Harris would have sufficient familiarity with the situation in Mexico and the Northern Triangle to jump right in to her new position.
In any event, however, given the dire situation at the Southwest border, Harris’s position is one that, by necessity, requires some “on-the-job” training. As she noted at the March 24 meeting announcing her appointment to this role, “we can chew gum and walk at the same time”. It really is past time that she got to work, on more than just one (somewhat redundant) phone call.