“Border Czar” Kamala Harris’ two-day trip to Guatemala and Mexico this week to address the “root causes” of the border crisis does not seem to have gone smoothly. On Sunday, her plane was reportedly forced to return to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland about 25 minutes after it had taken off due to a “technical issue.”
Then, her efforts in Guatemala got off to a rocky start on Monday when her motorcade was greeted by protesters holding signs that read “Trump won” and “go home.” And Harris’ interview with NBC’s Lester Holt went south when he asked her about her refusal to visit the border. “I don’t understand the point that you’re making,” she told Holt.
On Tuesday, her meeting with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador raised eyebrows because she insisted on wearing a mask, while Lopez Obrador did not. Both Harris and the Mexican president have been vaccinated for the Covid-19 virus.
Protesters near Guatemala’s presidential palace on Monday held a huge banner that read, “Kamala, Trump won.” They also wielded signs reading “Kamala, Mind Your Own Business,” “KKamala Not Welcome,” and “Kamala, Go Home.” Multiple signs bore the message “Trump won.”
Another sign that appears to have been hoisted by activists onto a tall billboard along the roadway says, “Kamala Stop Funding Criminals #FueraDeGuatemala.”
During a CBS News interview that aired Sunday, Guatemala President Alejandro Giammatte blamed Joe Biden for the crisis at the border.
Giammatte said he and Harris “are not on the same side of the coin” on migration.
“We asked the United States government to send more of a clear message to prevent more people from leaving,” the Guatemalan president explained.
When Biden took office, “The message changed too: ‘We’re going to reunite families, we’re going to reunite children,’” he said. “The very next day, the coyotes were here organizing groups of children to take them to the United States.”
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas insisted in early March that there was no crisis at the border, and that any problems the agency faced was the previous administration’s fault.
Later that month, in an attempt to stem the tide, Mayorkas said to potential migrants, “the message is quite clear. Do not come.”
Harris’ message to potential migrants on Monday was the same: “Do not come,” to the United States, she said.
After a day of meetings with Guatemalan officials, Harris Monday evening traveled to Mexico, where she was scheduled on Tuesday to meet with López Obrador. The Mexican president has in the past also blamed Biden for the increase in migration at the border.
Harris first sat down with the TODAY Show’s Lester Holt for an interview that aired Tuesday morning. Holt pressed Harris about her refusal to visit the border.
Since her appointment as the administration’s “Border Czar” 77 days ago, Harris has come under intense criticism for not visiting the U.S.-Mexico border, and for refusing to even hold a news conference addressing the dire situation there.
When Biden came to into office, he quickly ended Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy that required most asylum-seekers from Central America to remain in Mexico while US courts reviewed their claims. Now they are allowed into the U.S. and released into the interior of the country.
Biden also called for an end to construction of Trump’s US-Mexico border wall and urged Congress to pass legislation that would establish a path to citizenship for most illegal immigrants.
Since then, the United States has been facing the greatest surge of migrants at its southwestern border in over 20 years.
After describing the harrowing scenes being played out at the border every day, Holt asked, “why not visit the border? Why not see what Americans are seeing in this crisis?”
Harris answered, “we are going to the border,” and added with a grin that “there is a reason people are arriving at our border.” That reason, according to Harris, has nothing to do with the Biden administration reversing President Trump’s border security policies, but with “root causes” south of the border.
Those root causes, according to Harris in an interview last month, include corruption, violence, poverty, the lack of economic opportunity, and “the lack of climate adaptation and climate resilience.”
The Biden administration’s plan to address those problems involves sending $4 billion in aid to the Northern Triangle countries: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The plan is a continuation of Biden’s failed Obama-era policy of sending billions of American tax dollars to the Central American countries.
Holt noted that Biden as vice president under Obama had “led a very similar effort.”
“What’s significantly different about what you’re doing this time?” Holt asked.
Harris responded that she was “building off of” what Biden had done at the time.
“Why will it be successful this time if it wasn’t in the past,” the NBC host pressed.
Harris countered that the policy was successful then, and is leading to “progress” now.
Holt asked Harris one last time if she has any plans to visit the border.
Again, she insisted that “we’ve been to the border.”
“This whole thing about the border …” she complained. “We’ve been to the border. We’ve been to the border.”
“You haven’t been to the border,” Holt reminded her gently.
“And I haven’t been to Europe,” Harris shot back, laughing nervously. “I mean. I don’t understand the point that you’re making. I’m not discounting the importance of the border.”
Holt noted that even some Democrats like Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar have urged her to visit the border so she can see the historic migrant surge for herself.
“I care about what’s happening at the border, Harris insisted. “I’m in Guatemala because my focus is dealing with the root causes of migration. There may be some who think that that is not important, but it is my firm belief that if we care about what’s happening at the border, we better care about the root causes.”
“We have to deal with what's happening at the border.”@VP Kamala Harris spoke exclusively with @LesterHoltNBC on her first trip overseas, how the administration is addressing the immigration crisis, and if she plans to visit the southern border herself. pic.twitter.com/sA4We7peeR
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) June 8, 2021
Harris’ visit to Mexico comes after the country’s midterm elections weakened Lopez Obrador’s power base in Congress,
A Mexican government official told Reuters that the timing of Harris’ visit was not ideal.
“Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the United States had pushed for the visit,” Reuters reported.