United States (US) President Joe Biden on Wednesday, 25 March, tasked Vice President (VP) Kamala Harris with overseeing the administration’s efforts to check the influx of migrants at the Mexican border.
Announcing Harris’ assignment, on Wednesday, Biden said:
“I can think of nobody who’s better qualified to do this. When she speaks, she speaks for me.”
This assignment marks the first time Biden has publicly asked Harris to lead. However, it comes with its own set of significant challenges.
VP Harris, on her part, has said: “There’s no question that this is a challenging situation.”
“While we are clear that people should not come to the border now, we also understand that we will enforce the law and that we also — because we can chew gum and walk at the same time — address the root causes that cause people to make the trek.”
Thus, Kamala Harris’s plan, evidently, is to both check the presence of migrants at the border as well as to address the “push factors” which compel people to go to the borders, in the first place.
Why is This a Difficult Job?
THE NATURE OF THE PROBLEM
The new Biden administration has been under flak from critics, with both Republicans, as well as Democrats warning of a “burgeoning humanitarian crisis” as an increasing number of migrant children try to enter the US.
Republicans have also blamed Biden, saying that the migrant crisis at the Mexican border worsened once he started rolling back Trump’s policies.
Citing agency data, Bloomberg has reported that more than 15,000 unaccompanied migrant children are in the custody of United States Department of Health and Human Services, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). As per American law, apprehended children are not supposed to spend any more than 72 hours in CBP custody before they are transferred to HHS shelters.
However, Bloomberg reports that owing to lack of shelter space - further exacerbated by COVID-19 related distancing restrictions - many children are forced to stay in CBP facilities that are unfit for them for longer periods. Consequentially, the administration is exploring other options, including opening an emergency site at Carrizo Springs.
A per a Washington Post article, the actual nature of the challenge posed before Harris entails getting more space up and running quickly to deal with children and teens currently “jamming” border facilities.
Further, Washington Post quotes Hamed Aleaziz as saying that the real border issue is a management one.
WHAT BIDEN, HARRIS ARE SAYING
Biden, on his part, has blamed the “new surge” on the past (Trump) administration, but, has added, that “it is our responsibility”.
Harris, in an interview to CBS, reportedly expressed frustration with the situation and said: “Look, we’ve been in office less than 100 days.”
“We are addressing it. We’re dealing with it. But it’s going to take some time. And are we frustrated? Are you frustrated? Yes. We are.”
CHALLENGES BEFORE KAMALA HARRIS
- The assignment carries, with it, the risk that Harris will be blamed if the situation worsens.
- Stating that the Biden admin’s plan of improving economic conditions, combating corruption and strengthening democracy in Central America are “incredibly complex undertakings”, Greg Sargent writes for Washington post that “the management problem is also hard.”
- Harris will have to combat criticism of Biden administration’s expulsion of adult asylum seekers, as well as over a lack of media access to the holding facilities.
- As per a Washington Post analysis, once adult migrants are permitted to apply for asylum again, “streamlining legal processes and tracking them while they wait in the country will pose complex logistical and political challenges.”
- Frank Sharry of America’s Voice was also quoted by the Washington Post as saying that the transition to Biden’s strategy from Trump’s hardliner strategy is going to be bumpy and difficult, and that the question is whether Harris’s credibility will buy “enough patience with progressives and activists.”
- A significant chunk of Harris’s portfolio, experts say, will entail developing strategies regarding root causes of immigration, and finding legal pathways to take the pressure off the border.
What is the US Media Saying?
This development has naturally been reported extensively in United States media, often with a range of perspectives attached.
Greg Sargent, writing for Washington Post, has dubbed it “a big deal”, saying:
“…it could help shift part of the conversation away from the media-centric idea that the sum total of this “crisis” is what’s happening at the border, and focus it on the deeper causes of these migrations.”
Jordan Fabian and Jennifer Jacobs, for Bloomberg, have written:
“Harris’s assignment is similar to a task Biden took on as former President Barack Obama’s vice president in 2014 and 2015 when unaccompanied minors from the region first began arriving in the U.S. in large numbers.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports that the US President Biden is trying to stem border surge with diplomacy and more shelter space.
“Facing growing bipartisan pressure, the administration is ramping up its diplomatic efforts and racing to find more shelter space to house children as it tries to tackle the surge of asylum seekers at the border without turning to the aggressive deterrence strategies of previous administrations.”Wall Street Journal
(With inputs from Bloomberg, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal.)