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Vice President Harris Talks With Migrants And El Paso Residents In Visit To Border


Vice President Kamala Harris just wrapped a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas. She met migrant children at a Customs and Border Protection facility and toured a busy border crossing. It's a trip that she and the White House had resisted, as Republican critics sought to highlight a surge of migrants at the border. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith has been following this and joins us now. And, Tam, tell us more about who the vice president was visiting with, who she spoke to.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Yeah, she got an arguably sanitized view of the situation at the border. She visited El Paso, where things were much more problematic earlier this year with unaccompanied children being held longer than they were supposed to be. But since then, they've sped things up so the kids can move more quickly to shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services. And she wanted to highlight that improvement. But she did not visit one of those shelters. And there is one nearby, and there are very real concerns about the conditions there. Outside of the view of the press, she met with several migrant children. And it was part of an overall effort on this trip to focus on the humanitarian aspect of the immigration crisis, rather than on enforcement. And at the end, she stopped to talk to reporters on the tarmac, and she urged people to focus less on - to make it less political.


VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: This issue cannot be reduced to a political issue. We're talking about children. We're talking about families. We're talking about suffering. And our approach has to be thoughtful and effective.

CORNISH: You had Republicans - for instance, Texas Senator John Cornyn - questioning why Harris chose to visit El Paso rather than, say, the Rio Grande Valley. How did she talk about that choice?

KEITH: Yeah, so in terms of migrant apprehensions, the situation is much more controlled in El Paso than what's happening in the Rio Grande Valley. And that's why critics say that she should have gone there instead. But she said part of the reason she picked El Paso was because that is where the Trump administration first piloted its policy of separating migrant children from their parents, and she wanted to highlight that. So even as she was saying, get past the politics, she did want to cast blame on former President Donald Trump. She emphasized that the Biden administration approach is not just about enforcement, but also about root causes of migration in Central America. And certainly, those challenges didn't start with President Biden. Though some allies even have said that the administration's messaging, emphasizing being more humane, may have created a pull effect. And now it's five months into this administration. So at some point, blaming the former guy doesn't work as well.

CORNISH: You traveled with the vice president on her recent trip to Guatemala and Mexico, and at that time, she was being accused of dismissing the seriousness of the situation at the border. Did she address that criticism directly?

KEITH: Yeah, so she did show up at the border now. So that's what happened. She made this trip. It allows her to get rid of what had been a pretty salient political criticism that she hadn't yet visited the border. But this trip really did downplay the problems that exist at the border. You know, the administration has had real difficulties dealing with this flow of people. But Harris wanted to put an emphasis on the problems being traced back to Central America, where people are dealing with poverty and violence and natural disasters. And when questions specifically about the border came up, she turned to Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of Homeland Security, who was standing next to her, and let him answer those questions so she could say she was more focused on the root causes and not the border itself.

CORNISH: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you for your reporting.

KEITH: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.