AUSTIN, Texas - Vice President Kamala Harris is visiting Texas Friday to get a first-hand look at the situation at the southern border. It comes on the heels of criticism from Texas Republicans for waiting this long to visit the border, amid the ongoing influx of migrants.
The Vice President left around 5:00 AM CDT from Joint Base Andrews, headed for El Paso International Airport. Friday morning, she will be touring the El Paso border patrol station and meeting with nonprofits and shelter, and legal service providers, before giving remarks and taking questions from reporters at El Paso Airport Friday afternoon.
Harris’ visit comes amid increasing concerns from customs officials in Texas about a surge in night-time border crossings, particularly in the Rio Grande Valley. While the White House says there has been a decrease in children housed in border patrol facilities, the number of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers crossing the border is up.
Harris had previously dismissed a visit to the border, saying she was more focused on results and on dealing with the root causes of the migrant crisis, visiting Mexico and Guatemala to investigate issues leading people to flee. However, White House officials say this was the right time to make the trip, outlining Thursday the reasons for the Vice President’s visit, and why she opted not to visit sooner.
"To continue to address the root causes and work in coordination to get the situation under control," said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. "We didn't want to have anyone visit at a time where it would be disruptive to efforts and progress being made on the ground."
Many Texas Republicans like Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn argue this is too little too late.
"91 days ago, she was named as border czar in charge of the border crisis. And she demonstrated strong leadership by doing not a damn thing," Cruz said on the FOX News program "American Reports".
Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott is trying to bring back Trump-era immigration measures, promising last week to continue building former President Donald Trump’s border wall between Texas and Mexico, using donations to pay for part of it.
Abbott blames President Biden’s policies for the current situation at the border.
"Not only has he not called, but neither he nor Kamala have been there and so they're absentee landlords," said Abbott during a GOP podcast that aired Wednesday.
Trump himself is set to accompany Abbott to the border next week, with the White House insisting Harris’ visit Friday has nothing to do with that.
Abbott is criticizing the Vice President for going to El Paso instead of the Rio Grande Valley, saying she is ignoring the "real problem" areas not protected by the border wall. Abbott says she needs to speak to residents of the Del Rio sector who he claims are being directly impacted by smugglers.
Dr. Brian Smith, a political science professor at St. Edwards University, says Vice President Harris should not have waited this long to visit the border, but is hopeful the visit can be productive.
"People are crossing the border in record numbers and the US government is in charge of the border. Not the state of Texas, not private citizens. So she should have come here sooner, and hopefully we can get some bipartisanship here because everybody agrees that the border is a problem," said Smith. "Both parties realize something needs to be done, and Governor Abbott even realizes he can’t do this alone. His border wall is not adequate enough to solve the problem, so he’s going to need federal help."
Smith says it’s critical that Harris strike the right tone in her visit Friday, and that this needs to be the first of several visits to various points along the Texas-Mexico border.
"I think the Vice President cannot look at the border and say well there’s nothing to see here, move along. She really has to do a deep dive to see all the problems that are going on there at all the different levels and maybe start addressing one of them," said Smith. "Going to El Paso is part of the border but there’s 1200 miles of border in Texas and several thousand miles of border elsewhere. This can’t be her first and only stop."