Vice President Kamala Harris falsely claimed that “we’ve been to the border” when pressed on why she has not yet visited the southern border after being tasked by President Biden to handle the “root causes” of migration.
During an interview with NBC News Tuesday, Harris, who has been criticized by Republicans for not making the trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, was asked whether she had any plans to do so.
“I – at some point – you know – we are going to the border. We’ve been to the border,” Harris replied. “So this whole – this whole – this whole thing about the border. We’ve been to the border. We’ve been to the border.”
Harris was again pressed, with NBC’s Lester Holt reminding the vice president that she, herself, has not been to the border while in office.
“I – and I haven’t been to Europe. And I mean, I don’t – I don’t understand the point that you’re making,” Harris said, adding “I’m not discounting the importance of the border.”
“Listen, I care about what’s happening at the border,” Harris said, noting that she is “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 and address them,” she added. “And so that’s what I’m doing.”
Harris has come under heavy criticism from Republicans for the way she has handled the role since being appointed to it 75 days ago. While the White House has emphasized she is not tasked with the border per se, Republicans have criticized her repeatedly for not having visited the border at all – with former Trump officials saying she needs to go to the border in order to be able to conduct the talks effectively.
Harris’ comments came as she visited Guatemala, for her first visit abroad since being appointed by President Biden to lead diplomatic efforts to the region to help solve the massive spike in migration to the border in recent months.
Harris, during a press conference alongside Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei told potential migrants that they should not travel to the U.S. Mexico border – claiming that they would be turned back if they did.
“I want to emphasize that the goal of our work is to help Guatemalans find hope at home, at the same time I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making the dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border – do not come, do not come,” she said.
Harris, on Monday, seemed to be attempting to make clear that message, and claimed that migrants would be turned back as she sought to present a tougher stance on illegal immigration.
“The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border,” she said. “There are legal methods by which migration can and should occur but we, as one of our priorities, will discourage illegal migration and I believe if you come to our border you will be turned back.”
The White House, on Tuesday, seemingly clarified Harris’ comments, saying that they encourage those who would like to come to the U.S. to “do so legally.”
“The President and Vice President have been clear in dissuading people from making the dangerous and treacherous journey to the U.S./Mexico border,” Symone Sanders, Senior Advisor and Chief Spokesperson to the vice president, said in a statement Tuesday morning.
“We encourage those who do want to come to the U.S. to do so legally and seek legal immigration options in their home countries,” Sanders continued. “The Vice President is committed to addressing the root causes of migration, which also addresses why migrants are coming to our border.”
The White House says they have been clear on that policy – noting that during the transition, Amb. Susan Rice and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan reiterated that now was not the time to come to the U.S., and noting that President Biden in March said something to the same effect, while Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has urged migrants to pursue legal immigration channels.
The Biden administration has rolled back a number of Trump-era policies which kept migrants out of the U.S., even as increasing numbers of migrants flooded to the border. Of those, the most significant was the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) – which kept migrants in Mexico as they awaited their hearings. The Biden administration has ended the program and has been processing migrants enrolled into the program into the U.S.
It has also ended a number of asylum cooperative agreements with countries like Guatemala which made migrants claim asylum in other countries first, and has been accused of encouraging migration by narrowing interior enforcement in the U.S., and pushing for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the U.S.
The administration has kept in place the Trump-era Title 42 public health order which allows migrants to be expelled quickly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and officials said that out of the 178,000 migrants encountered at the border in April, 111,714 were expelled – mainly single adults.
However, the administration has not applied Title 42 to unaccompanied children, of which there were more than 13,000 that arrived at the border in April, and it is not returning migrant families with children under seven to Mexico due to the country’s refusal to take them — meaning that significant numbers of families are not being turned back, and are being released into the U.S. interior.
Fox News’ Adam Shaw contributed to this report.