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Harris to lead administration's efforts to stem migration at border

Harris to lead efforts to stem migration
Harris to lead efforts to stem migration 02:25

President Biden announced Wednesday he had tapped Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the administration's efforts to stem migration at the southern border. Her role comes as border apprehensions have soared since Mr. Biden took office. 

"She's the most qualified person to do it — to lead our efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle, and the countries that are going to need help in stemming the movement of so many folks — stemming the migration to our southern border," Mr. Biden said at the White House on Wednesday. "It's not her full responsibility and job, but she's leading the effort, because I think the best thing to do is put someone who, when he or she speaks, they don't have to wonder about — is that where the president is? As she speaks, she speaks for me, doesn't have to check with me, she knows what she's doing —and I hope we can move this along."

"Starting today the Northern Triangle nations and Mexico will know there is one senior official dedicated to this effort," a senior official said on a call with reporters. "She [the vice president] is really going to look at two tracks. She is going to work first on the goal of stemming the flow of irregular migrants to the US, but also at the same time, and as part of the broader context, her real goal is establishment of a strategic partnership with these countries that is based on respect and shared values." 

VP Harris to lead efforts to stem migration 03:06

Additionally, officials note, Harris plans to work to make it safer for people to apply for asylum and legal pathways in their home nations instead of making the dangerous trip.

Officials point to Harris' experience in "fighting organized crime and upholding human rights"  as a former California attorney general and member of Senate committees that dealt with immigration policy. The new role also relies on Harris's past experience on the sensitive matter of immigration.

By tapping Harris for the assignment, the president is signaling to Mexican and Central American officials the seriousness with which his administration is approaching the situation by appointing his deputy to take the lead.

Wednesday's announcement comes after U.S. officials along the southern border made more than 100,000 apprehensions in February — a 28% increase from the previous month. Most were single adult migrants who were expelled under a Trump-era public health order.

Nearly 9,500 unaccompanied entered U.S. border custody in February, a record for that month. With an average of 530 encounters per day this month, U.S. border officials are on track to take into custody more than 16,000 unaccompanied children in March, an all-time high.

There are currently more than 11,300 unaccompanied children in Health and Human Services shelters, and thousands others in Customs and Border Patrol holding facilities (unfit to house them long-term) near the southern border.

Kamala Harris on unaccompanied minors at bord... 06:47

During an interview with "CBS This Morning" on Wednesday, Harris said that "at some point, absolutely we will go down to the border."

"The reality also is that in addition to the border, we also need to deal with the root causes. We need to deal with what's happening in the Northern Triangle and address it in a way that is about not only diplomacy but bringing our allies together." Harris said. "Dealing with what we need to do around aid in a way that is about developing those countries so that we also deal with the cause of why people are coming into our country."

The new assignment  mirrors some of the politically sensitive assignments Mr. Biden handled during the Obama administration.

In 2009, he was tapped to "sheriff" the implementation of a multibillion economic stimulus plan. An assignment fraught with political risk, then-Vice President Biden dove in, holding hours-long conference calls each week with mayors and state officials about how the federal funding was being distributed and spent. To this day, aides talk about how much Mr. Biden relished the role, as it gave him an opportunity to travel the country meeting with local leaders, many of whom have since climbed the political ladder, and allowed him to demonstrate to voters how the federal government could help revive the moribund economy.

Throughout the Obama years, Mr. Biden also served as point man on Iraq, a nod by former President Obama to Mr. Biden's decades of Senate work on foreign policy and relationships with leaders in the region. He traveled frequently to the region, including in 2011 to negotiate the final details of the American withdrawal of combat forces.

Senior aides on Wednesday brushed off comparisons to Biden's past vice presidential work on foreign policy and on topics that crossed the jurisdiction of multiple federal agencies. A senior aide said in response to a question that Harris would carry out the assignment "in her own style."

But in recent weeks, Harris aides have been pining for a more high-profile assignment beyond her early focus on women-owned small businesses and the trips she took in recent weeks to boost support for the American Rescue Plan. Some aides had hoped she would be tasked with leading the implementation of the nearly $2 trillion law, an assignment that would have given her an opportunity to travel the country, as Biden once did, to tout federal spending projects. But the president has named economic expert Gene Sperling to serve as point man on the law.

During the early months of the administration, Harris has already signaled other foreign policy priorities. In February White Officials told CBS News that cybersecurity, technology and global health would be among her top agenda items.  Those close to Harris say the interests come, in part, from her days as California's junior senator and her experience as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

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