President Biden announced Wednesday that Vice President Kamala Harris would be leading the administration's efforts to deal with the migration situation at the Mexican border — something which could end up being a politically awkward challenge for Harris.
As the Associated Press reports, Biden made the announcement during a meeting with cabinet members and Harris on Wednesday. It was a meeting with various immigration officials as well as Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandra Mayorkas.
"This new surge we are dealing with now started in the past administration, but it is our responsibility [to deal with it]," Biden said, per the New York Times.
Biden spoke of "serious spikes" in illegal immigration and attempted border crossings, and he said Harris was the most qualified person to take on the diplomatic assignment of speaking to leaders in Mexico and Central America to address the problem.
Under the Trump administration, Homeland Security took the lead on border policy, and it's not clear that that will change. In the first two months of Biden's administration, the situation at the border has intensified, reportedly, in part, because more migrants from Central America have the perception that Biden will be kinder to them — though it's also true that nothing has changed for many of their dangerous and impoverished living situations at home, from which some of them are seeking refuge or asylum.
By handing off this large responsibility to his VP, the AP notes, Biden is replicating the way that President Obama leaned on Biden's experience to handle the troop withdrawal in Iraq.
Harris will be tasked with overseeing a previously announced program to funnel billions of dollars in aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, in hopes that improving the economies in these countries will given their citizens less reason to want to leave. And the Times notes that Biden himself was tasked with doing something similar in these same countries under the Obama administration in the last decade, and he was most unsuccessful.
Harris said today "no question this is a challenging situation," and as the Times notes, she'll be taking it on in an even more "heated political environment" than five years ago, with Republicans eager to pounce on any missteps with immigration for their own political gain.
It's unclear whether Harris will be making any immediate trips to Central America to begin this work. And though Harris won't be directly in charge of what happens at the southern border, and aides say she will be solely responsible for leading efforts with Central American leaders, it seems likely she will shoulder the blame if further complications arise or if the surge of migrants worsens in the coming months.
Top image: U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (L) and President Joe Biden meet with cabinet memebrs and immigration advisors in the State Dining Room on March 24, 2021 in Washington, DC. With the number of migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border reaching a two-decade high, Biden announced that Harris will be leading the White House efforts to handle the crisis at the border. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)