EDITOR’S NOTE: To view an exclusive report from Spectrum News 1 anchor Giselle Fernandez in Guatemala that accompanies this story, click the arrow above.
Vice President Kamala Harris was criticized Tuesday for her response to questions about whether she planned to visit the U.S.-Mexico border, an unanswered element of her focus on migration as she traveled to Central America this week.
The vice president gave what some described as a flippant answer in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt that aired Tuesday morning.
After Holt stated that she hadn’t been to the border, Harris responded:
“And I haven’t been to Europe,” she said, laughing. “I don’t understand the point that you’re making.”
Earlier in the interview, she explained: “We are going to the border. We have to deal with what’s happening at the border.”
“But we have to understand there’s a reason that people are arriving at our border,” she added, pointing to the reason for her trip this week to Guatemala and Mexico, where she met with the countries’ leaders, entrepreneurs, civil society leaders and others.
Harris has been tasked by President Joe Biden with diplomacy in Central America to help address the root causes of migration, including poverty, hunger, violence, corruption and climate change.
But both Republicans and Democrats have pointed to the overwhelming situation at the border as a direct result of those root causes and evidence of the dire circumstances driving people to the United States.
“Imagine calling 911 when your home is on fire and watching as they hose down your neighbor's house instead. That's what it feels like,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Monday on the Senate floor.
Harris has contended that a border trip is possible in the future, but she remained committed to her focus on the Central American region this week, despite repeated questions about the U.S.-Mexico line.
“I came here to be here on the ground, to speak with the leader of this nation around what we can do,” she said at a press conference Monday with Guatemala’s president.
“I will continue to be focused on that kind of work as opposed to grand gestures,” Harris added, referring to a potential border trip.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterated that on Tuesday.
“Her assignment was to work with countries and leaders in the Northern Triangle to address root causes,” Psaki said. “If it moves the ball forward for her to visit the border, she certainly may do that.”
Harris also received criticism from progressive Democrats for other comments she made Monday in Guatemala, firmly telling people in the country, “Do not come,” to the United States.
“This is disappointing to see,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York wrote on Twitter. “Seeking asylum at any US border is a 100% legal method of arrival.”
Since January, the number of people encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border has grown past previous records, reaching more than 178,000 in April, a 20-year high. Most are still turned away under a public health order that President Biden has kept in place, a grievance of immigration advocates.