White House officials are downplaying Kamala Harris‘ first major public charge of the administration as Department of Homeland Security statistics show the number of migrants crossing the border could double this year.
The stunning recalibration comes as the border situation is spiraling into a public relations nightmare for the administration. New pictures show children on rafts crossing the Rio Grande, lawmakers have released photos of kids sleeping on the floor of overcrowded shelters wrapped in silver foil blankets, and the government numbers predict more migrants are coming.
And, amid public perception that Harris is in charge of border policy for President Joe Biden, White House officials said the vice president will play a ‘diplomatic role’ in the crisis and focus on addressing the ‘root causes’ behind the migrant surge.
Press secretary Jen Psaki issued what she called a ‘clarification’ on Harris’ role on Monday, saying there was ‘confusion’ on what the vice president was tasked to do.
‘The Vice President of the United States will be helping lead that effort – specifically, the root causes, not the border. There is some confusion over that,’ she said at her press briefing.
White House officials are downplaying Kamala Harris’ first major public charge of the administration as PR crisis on the border grows for President Joe Biden White House
A ‘coyote’ people smuggler guides an inflatable boat carrying migrants from Central America arriving illegally from Mexico to the US to seek asylum, on the Rio Grande river at the border city of Roma
Migrants from Central America, who arrived illegally from Mexico to the US to seek asylum, disembark from an inflatable boat after crossing the Rio Grande river before turning themselves over to border patrol agents
And Symone Sanders, a spokesperson for Harris, told reporters last week that ‘the vice president is not doing the border’ but ‘dealing with the root causes of migration.’
She added that President Biden tasked Harris ‘with taking on those diplomatic efforts.’
Harris has not announced a trip to the border and has not given a public press interview about her new role.
Her office said she has been briefed ‘extensively’ on the northern triangle and Latin America situation and will soon speak with leaders in that region.
But she will not attend a bipartisan briefing on the border that the administration is hosting Wednesday for House lawmakers. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra will led the virtual briefing, CNN reported, and the vice president will not be a part of it.
The clarification on her role comes after President Joe Biden announced Harris would lead the administration’s effort with Mexico and the northern triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to stem the ‘serious spike’ in immigration.
‘I’ve asked her, the VP today because she’s most qualified person to do it to lead our efforts with Mexico and the northern triangle and the countries that need help in stemming the movement of so many folks stemming migration to our southern border,’ he said in his announcement last week.
‘She’s leading the effort. The best thing to do is put someone when he or she speaks, they don’t have to wonder about is that where the president is. She speaks for me,’ he said of his vice president. ‘She knows what she’s doing.’
Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland expects approximately 500,000 to 800,000 migrants to arrive as part of a family group during the 2021 fiscal year that ends in September, according to a data analysis by The Washington Post.
That could be double over fiscal year 2020 when 458,088 people were encountered on southern border, according to US Customs and Border Patrol data.
Additionally, internal administration leaked to Axios show unaccompanied minor apprehensions are expected to surge as high as 26,000 in September.
This month, approximately 16,000 minors crossed the border, which was a record high.
There were 5,767 children in Customs and Border Protection custody on Sunday, up from 5,495 children on Thursday, according to CBP data. And there are 11,886 children in the custody of Health and Human Services.
Combining the HHS and CBP figures, the Biden administration has more than 17,500 children in custody.
To compare, in May 2019 when Donald Trump was president and his border crisis was at its height, 11,475 unaccompanied kids were arrested by border patrol agents.
In June 2014, during the peak surge of children at the border, 10,620 unaccompanied children were arrested by US Border Patrol.
Migrants from Central America – the Department of Homeland expects approximately 500,000 to 800,000 migrants to arrive as part of a family group during the 2021 fiscal year
A little girl from Ecuador steps off a raft after crossing the Rio Grande river
Republican lawmakers have been criticizing the Biden administration on its border policies – Senator Ted Cruz led a tour last week and released photos of his visit to a crowded migrant shelter in Donna, Texas
Compounding the pressure on the Biden administration is Republican lawmakers, who have been visiting the border to slam the White House for the crisis. They blame Biden’s roll back of Donald Trump’s stricter policies for the surge, which they are trying to turn into a hot-button political issue ahead of the 2022 midterm election.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas led 18 fellow GOP senators on a border trip last week. He posted multiple photos and videos of the group joining border agents on a midnight patrol of the Rio Grande River. He also posted photos of children being held in crowded conditions – many sleeping on the floor – in one of the CBP shelters in Donna, Texas.
‘Democrats like to pretend their open-borders policies are somehow humane,’ Cruz told ‘Fox News Sunday.’
‘There’s nothing humane about what Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are doing at the border. They’re subjecting kids to horrific abuse, they’re endangering their lives in a pandemic by keeping them locked up in cages right on top of each other,’ he said. ‘This is a humanitarian, health and national security crisis.’