Amid record-setting numbers of attempted border crossings and courtroom drama over the fate of Title 42, critics say one voice has been consistently absent from the ongoing immigration debate: the president’s own migration czar.
Vice President Kamala Harris attempted to put her stamp on the issue last summer by visiting El Paso and warning migrants “do not come” during a trip to Guatemala. But in recent months, she’s limited her discussion of the issue to one-on-one meetings and exchanged public declarations for paper statements.
Harris appears to have hosted just one public event this year focused on migration — a Jan. 27 trip to Honduras to attend the inauguration of President Xiomara Castro. While there, Harris said her focus on the “root causes” of migration would not fix the US-Mexico border crisis “overnight.”
Mark Morgan, who led the US Border Patrol in the final months of the Obama administration before leading US Customs and Border Protection between 2019 and 2021 during the Trump administration, accused Harris of not doing enough.
Harris “clearly has one goal in mind — become president of the United States. But instead of working for the very people who would eventually elect her, she has worked against them, ignoring her responsibilities as border czar,” said Morgan, who is now a fellow at both the Federation for American Immigration Reform and Heritage Foundation.
“A true border czar must be a leader who acknowledges that border security is national security, provides CBP with the resources they have been deprived of, takes action to protect American communities from lethal narcotics, and doesn’t allow border security policy decisions to be guided by open borders activists,” Morgan told The Post.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican Senate candidate who is urging GOP Gov. Doug Ducey to declare Arizona to be under “invasion” and allow state officials to deport migrants, said Harris “has become a willing participant in ceding control of our southern border to the cartels.”
Ken Cuccinelli, former acting deputy director of the Department of Homeland Security, piled on, saying, “Despite what her boss and LinkedIn profile may say, the VP of the United States isn’t the lead on solving the border crisis — she doesn’t even play one on TV.”
“It’s clear that this White House is more concerned about globalist radicals than the lives being destroyed at the southern border,” added Cuccinelli, the former Virginia attorney general who is now a senior fellow at the Center for Renewing America.
“Turns out it’s easier to shoot films with child actors than it is to address real problems and put Americans first.”
A Biden White House official defended Harris, however, saying that she “continues to lead implementation of the Root Causes Strategy and has been engaging with Cabinet and other Administration officials on this effort.”
“These are long-term efforts, but under the Vice President’s leadership, the Biden-Harris Administration is seeing significant progress on addressing Root Causes of Migration from Central America,” the official said.
Harris has had a handful of migration-focused events over the past six months, though most of them were closed to the public and focused on boosting private-sector investment in Central America to deter economic migration, rather than on restricting or stopping the flow of new arrivals across the US-Mexico frontier.
On Dec. 13, Harris announced $1.2 billion in private-sector investments in Central America to reduce poverty that contributes to migration — enlisting Pepsi, Cargill, Mastercard and other major US corporations to help create jobs in the region.
But since that public event, most of her engagements have been private. On Jan. 10, Harris called Guatemala’s president, Alejandro Giammattei, and the official US readout mentioned discussion of “the root causes of migration, trafficking, economic development, and anti-corruption.”
On April 15, Harris met privately with Ray Chambers of the Partnership for Central America “about the ongoing work to address the root causes of migration from Central America,” according to a White House release.
And on May 11, she met privately with business leaders about the $1.2 billion pledge and “highlighted U.S. government efforts to support their investments in the region and address the drivers of migration, including by combating corruption and improving governance and security,” the White House said.
But Harris made little mention of the efforts publicly as the looming repeal of the Title 42 COVID-19 threatened a tidal wave of migration that exceeds even last year’s four-decade high in border busts.
On Friday, a judge paused the scheduled lifting of the policy, which allowed authorities to quickly expel most suspected illegal immigrants without first hearing their asylum claims. The administration previously allowed unaccompanied children and families to remain in the US as courts review their cases — but a massive wave of single adults was expected to follow the policy’s repeal, which was originally set for Monday.
Biden in March 2021 appointed Harris to address the “root causes” of migration from Latin America, but monthly border apprehensions continued to surge.
Harris last year visited Guatemala and Mexico, but the June trip was overshadowed by her difficulty answering reporter questions about why she hadn’t visited the US-Mexico border. Harris visited the border shortly after that trip, but only after former President Donald Trump booked a visit to denounce his successors.
In fiscal year 2021, which ended Sept. 30, there were nearly 1.7 million US Border Patrol encounters with suspected illegal border-crossers — the most since at least 1986. So far in fiscal 2022, there have been nearly 1.3 million encounters.
In 2019, when there was an earlier border crisis also linked to Central American migrants, there were fewer than 860,000 Border Patrol encounters.
Republicans blame Biden’s policies for incentivizing the rush. For example, they point to his calls for Congress to legalize most people currently living in the US illegally, his campaign-trail calls to welcome asylum seekers and his abandonment of hardline Trump-era border enforcement tactics.
Harris, meanwhile, has taken heat from members of both parties. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told the New York Times in December that he had given up on trying to work with the veep.
“I say this very respectfully to her: I moved on,” Cuellar said. “She was tasked with that job, it doesn’t look like she’s very interested in this, so we are going to move on to other folks that work on this issue.