When President Joe Biden announced back in March that he was assigning Vice President Kamala Harris with the task of taking charge of immigration from Central America, her aides appeared to "panic," according to a White House official, CNN reported on Tuesday.
The panic was caused by concern that her assignment, which was to focus on conditions in Central America that push migrants to the US southern border and diplomatic efforts to mitigate those, was being intentionally misconstrued, according to the official.
This would increase the possibility that it could be politically damaging to Harris if she was connected to any failure at the southern border, where there has been a surge of illegal immigrants arriving, including a record number of unaccompanied children crossing into the U.S.
The official said the concern and dismay of the vice president’s aides increased when Republican critics and the media portrayed her new role as a border assignment and immigration czar, opening her up to criticism for the handling of the problem.
However, another White House official said the vice president's team wasn't panicked and that Harris has been focused on the assignment. The official also denied that her team was concerned about how her role was being perceived.
A White House official said Harris was eager for a portfolio that could provide her with political victories, according to CNN.
Her performance in the task is perceived as critical to her future political career, and is especially relevant now as she prepares for a trip to Guatemala and Mexico in her first official, in-person attempt to find solutions to the troubles that push Central American migrants toward the US and develop a larger strategic partnership with nations in the region.
Despite the vice president's attempt to separate the two issues, experts stress that the causes of migration and the surge on the border are inextricably linked and argue that while addressing the reasons people migrate to the US is vital, it can't be disconnected from what's happening at the US southern border.
"You can't divorce the border from Mexico or Central America or the interior of the US," said John Sandweg, a former senior Homeland Security official who served in the Obama administration. "It is all one system."
Cris Ramon, an immigration consultant, agreed, telling CNN that "Everything you're doing in Central America is always towards an eye on the border and what's happening in the United States. With the current dynamics in migration, what's happening at the US-Mexico border has implications in the Northern Triangle and vice versa."
Harris, however, continues to insist that her role is to address the "root causes" of migration, while the Homeland Security secretary is tackling the "symptoms" of it manifesting at the border.
The vice president has stressed that without a diplomatic effort in those countries, "we are just in a perpetual system of only dealing with the symptoms."
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