White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday maintained that Vice President Kamala Harris‘ focus is “not on the border,” but on the “root causes” of migration, amid heightened scrutiny over her new role and questions about why she has yet to visit the U.S. southern border.
Last month, President Biden appointed Harris to serve as the administration’s diplomatic liaison in talks with Mexico and the Northern Triangle nations – Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador – on how best to address the root causes of the migrant surge.
During Monday’s White House press briefing, Psaki was asked why Harris has not visited the border — a question she referred to the vice president’s team.
“But I would tell you also that her focus is not on the border,” Psaki said. “It’s on addressing the root causes in the Northern Triangle, and that’s why the majority of her time has been spent working on a diplomatic level.”
Harris is set to meet with the president of Guatemala on Monday afternoon, and with the president of Mexico next week, Psaki said.
“She’s working with them to ensure there are systems put in place to reduce the amount of migration coming from these countries, but also to address the root causes,” Psaki said.
She added: “And that’s really what the president asked her to do.”
White House officials, earlier this month, maintained that Harris would play a “diplomatic” role and would lead “diplomatic efforts to engage Mexico and the Northern Triangle to address the root causes of migration and to oversee the flow and use of US aid.”
The White House later clarified that Harris wasn’t involved with the “border crisis,” but was instead focused on addressing the “root causes — not the border.”
The Biden administration has been facing a continuing border crisis, with a migrant surge that has led to images of migrant children packed at over-capacity facilities and families being released into the U.S.
On Monday, Psaki said the administration is focused on “expediting moving kids out of these Border Patrol facilities” in order to “reduce the public health impact” on them and the facilities amid the coronavirus pandemic, and move them into spaces where they can properly practice social distance, and ensure the minors have “access to health and medical experts and educational resources.”
“We’ve made some progress on that front,” Psaki said, adding that if Biden or Harris visits a facility of that kind, officials would “have to potentially clear some parts out.”
“There’s a lot of security that comes — our focus here is on solutions, making progress, on moving kids out of these facilities and getting them connected with sponsor homes, with family members, if possible,” Psaki said.
“And that’s really where the president’s focus is at this point,” she added.