EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Largely symbolic and likely to be politicized, Vice President Harris’ Friday visit to El Paso nonetheless gave her the opportunity to pitch the message the Biden administration is making progress in managing migration flows.
“The president and I are absolutely committed to ensuring that our immigration system is orderly and humane, and I do believe that we are making progress in that regard,” Harris said at a news conference inside El Paso International Airport.
Harris, whom President Joe Biden tapped as his point-person on immigration, had taken flak from Republicans over not visiting the border as illegal migration has surged to levels not seen in 20 years. She took more criticism from Republicans on Friday for visiting “the wrong part of the border,” as apprehension stats show more migrants are coming over at South Texas, not Far West Texas.
Protesters lined the side of the road as Harris toured the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Central Processing Center in Northeast El Paso. One carried a sign saying “You made a wrong turn, this isn’t Europe.” That was a reference to a comment she made on national television that she has “never visited Europe, either” when asked why she hadn’t gone to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Some border experts said politics definitely figured on her choice of El Paso over South Texas.
“It’s interesting she didn’t go to South Texas, which has been quite a hot spot for immigration more so than El Paso. It reaffirms that this is a political handling of the crisis because she’s not going to the red-hot spot, but instead the yellow-colored spot, so to speak,” said Tony Payan, director of the Center for the United States and Mexico at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, and a professor at Juarez Autonomous University.
Had she gone to South Texas now, particularly with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vowing to build border wall and with former President Donald Trump scheduled to be there next week, Harris “could’ve been walking into a trap,” Payan said.
He and other experts told Border Report and KTSM the visit is likely not to change much in terms of the migrant surge. However, local advocates who met with the vice president at El Paso International Airport said this could be a turning point in changing Americans’ perception of the border.
“We spoke of the need to change the fundamental narrative of the border. We need to reject the false narrative that promotes militarization of the border and fear of the migrants,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights. “We need to build on the narrative that this is the new Ellis Island. […] The vice president expressed support for that idea and that we need to build welcoming centers rather than jails.”
Whether by chance or by choice, Harris’ tour of the border takes away some of the thunder of Trump’s planned visit to South Texas.
“This was very smart. I think this was a Biden decision. ‘Don’t walk into controversy. Don’t engage them. It’s still the border. It’s still Texas,” Payan said. “It’s not going to resolve any problems overnight. It’s not meant to do that. But it sends a message that they’re getting their hands around the issue, that they’re making up for early mistakes and that they see immigration as important.”
He added that Biden will try to build on the multi-billion dollar infrastructure compromise with Republicans by pursuing an immigration compromise next.
Margarita Arvizu, another El Paso activist, said many border residents live in mixed immigration-status households and haven’t forgotten Biden’s promise of legalization for law-abiding undocumented immigrants with deep family and work roots in the United States.
“I have U.S. citizens, I have legal residents and I have undocumented relatives. They all live with the uncertainty of whether a loved one can go out to work one day and not come back because he ran into immigration (agents),” she said. “Too many people who are established members of this society live in a limbo, and that needs to be fixed.”