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'She got a snack': Harris a no-show at border since taking lead in stemming illegal immigration flow

VP found time to stop at a bakery in Chicago, but didn't take opportunity to get first-hand look at border surge while on visit home to California, one of four states that border Mexico.

Updated: April 8, 2021 - 10:46pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

In the weeks since being put in charge of a key part of the Biden administration's response to the illegal immigration surge across the U.S. southern border, Vice President Kamala Harris has yet to visit the border — not even taking advantage of a trip home to California to get a first-hand look at the ongoing crisis. 

President Joe Biden announced in late March that Harris had been assigned to "lead [the administration's] efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle and the countries that are going to need help in ... stemming the migration to our southern border."

Harris herself pledged to "[engage] in diplomacy with government, with private sector, with civil society and the leaders of each in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras" as part of her duties in that role.

The border crisis has continued to grow over the past several months, with federal data released on Thursday revealing a steep upward trajectory of border encounters reaching nearly 175,000 in March, a significant rise over the last several years. 

Yet roughly two weeks after being delegated the leadership role, the vice president has yet to make a visit to the border, where thousands of migrants, including thousands of children, have been detained attempting to cross into the U.S. illegally. 

Whether or not visiting the border was ever supposed to be part of Harris's job duties in her position is unclear. Her role amid the crisis appears to be confined largely to diplomatic efforts rather than purely domestic ones. 

Still, she has been conspicuous by her total absence from the border thus far, at least as a matter of public relations. Other politicians have made politically opportune trips to the border in the weeks since the crisis began: A delegation of GOP politicians, for instance, toured illegal immigrant facilities at the end of March, slamming the Biden administration for its media blackout policies and its overcrowding of young migrants. 

In 2019 amid a similar crisis under the Trump administration, meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence visited several border facilities, touting the allegedly humane conditions within them in an effort to counter withering criticism from Democrats and media over the administration's handling of that immigration surge. 

Yet the administration has been sending mixed signals regarding prospects for a Harris visit to facilities at the border. Harris herself said last month that she and Biden would visit the border "at some point." Yet her spokeswoman Symone Sanders reportedly said last month that the vice president is "not doing the border" as part of her duties in addressing the crisis. 

Sanders did not respond to queries via direct message on Twitter regarding what plans, if any, the vice president has to visit the border. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki this week, meanwhile, indicated that there are at present no plans at all for Harris to make an appearance at any border facilities. 

Asked during a Wednesday press conference why Harris hadn't yet visited the border, Psaki responded:  "I don’t have any trips to outline or preview."

Psaki was pressed on why Harris appeared to be slacking on the border crisis while still finding time to travel — including to her home state of California (one of four states bordering Mexico) — as well as "visit[ing] a bakery in Chicago." Psaki said the vice president had made the trip to Chicago to "talk about COVID and the importance of communities getting the vaccine when it's available and accessible to them."

"And so, while she was there, like many Americans, she got a snack," Psaki said. "I think she's allowed to do that." The press secretary also noted that the United States Agency for International Development this week deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team "to respond to urgent humanitarian needs in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador."

"[B]eing responsible in the lead on the Northern Triangle is working with these countries in the region, addressing the root causes, working with them on how we can address issues like long-term food insecurity, drought, the COVID-19 pandemic, hurricanes, et cetera," Psaki said. "That's what [Harris is] focused on."

Harris herself took flak last month when, a few days before Biden announced her role in the immigration crisis, she was asked by a reporter if she had any plans to visit the U.S. border.

"Not today," she said, laughing. "But I have before, and I'm sure I will again."