The Biden administration will investigate the conditions of migrant children at the Fort Bliss military base in El Paso, it was announced Friday during Vice President Kamala Harris’s visit to the US-Mexico border, amid testimony presented in court that the conditions are desperate.
Symone Sanders, senior advisor and chief spokesperson for Harris, told reporters on board Air Force Two en route to the West Texas border town on Friday that Joe Biden and Harris “asked. [homeland security secretary Xavier] Becerra to make a thorough investigation ”into the conditions under which the children are held in tents at the military center, and to report to them.
“The administration takes this very seriously. Extremely seriously, ”Sanders said.
Harris faced the most politically difficult time of his vice-presidency during his visit, as part of his role as the head of the Biden administration’s response to the recent surge in families and children unaccompanied migrating across the US-Mexico border.
After arriving in El Paso, she visited a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center near the international bridge that connects the city to its twin, Juárez, across the Rio Grande in Mexico.
A reporter asked Harris why “now is the right time” to make his first trip to the border.
She replied that it was not her first trip, although it was her first trip as vice president and since Joe Biden tasked her with dealing with immigration and migration issues.
“I said in March that I was going to come to the border, so it’s not a new plan. But the reality is that we have to face the causes and deal with the effects. “
After answering questions, Harris was briefed by the Border Patrol of the agency’s efforts to computerize the files in order to expedite the processing of migrants’ legal cases. Many seek asylum from human rights violations, and children, in particular, aim to reunite with family members already in the United States while their cases are processed.
Harris was not to visit the secure facilities at Fort Bliss. Last month, Becerra announced it was backing down plans to house thousands of children under the age of 12 there, after Democratic lawmakers and immigration activists protested that the facility did not meet basic child protection standards.
The temporary shelter is one of a dozen makeshift sites set up by the government to provide more capacity beyond the traditional licensed shelters overseen by the health and social services department.
The vice president has faced months of criticism from members of both sides for refusing to make the trip so far and for her confused explanations as to why, as well as her remarks on her first trip to the foreigner in Guatemala, when she clearly explained the Biden administration’s Message to those seeking refuge in the United States: “Do not come. “
The comments “reinforced the years of attacks on the rights of refugees and asylum seekers by the previous administration,” said Dylan Corbett, director of a local nonprofit that focuses on the politics of asylum. immigration and aid to migrants in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. the Guardian.
With Donald Trump visiting the region less than a week after Harris and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made increasingly right-wing remarks on immigration, Republicans will be watching the deputy’s visit closely. president looking for fodder for further attacks.
Party politics aside, CBP, the federal agency, recently reported nine deaths of migrants along the border just in the El Paso area, but said they only reported the death toll. where officers find the deceased or are involved in an emergency response. . The actual number is probably higher.
These are deaths such as heatstroke as migrants walk through the triple-digit desert heat or fall from the 30-ton-high border wall.
“We have so little appreciation for what they risk to be safe, to put food on the table”, Ruben Garcia, said the director of the region’s Annunciation House shelter network. “These people don’t come here because they want to put hot tubs in their homes. “
Biden’s first months in office saw record numbers of migrants attempting to cross the border.
CBP recorded more than 180,000 encounters at the Mexican border in May, the highest number since March 2000.
Those numbers were amplified by a coronavirus pandemic-related ban on the legal facility to seek asylum from persecution, a rule called Title 42 started by Trump and pursued by Biden that allows most people to cross the border illegally. to be summarily expelled to Mexico, at their peril.
“What happens at the border is important and is directly linked to what is happening in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras,” said Harris spokesperson Symone Sanders. “This is directly linked to the work to tackle the root causes of migration. “
Harris was accompanied on the trip by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Democratic Senator from Illinois Dick Durbin and Democratic Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, who represents the district there.
Escobar called El Paso the New Ellis Island, the New York Harbor facility that handled millions of migrants to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Harris had no plans to visit Fort Blisson on Friday.
Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a Latin American civil rights organization, expressed concern that Harris’ visit was “a day late and a dollar short. “.
“It almost feels like they’re somehow forced by local communities, as well as political attacks from right-wing Republicans,” Garcia said.
But, despite everything, Garcia said he was glad she was leaving and expressed optimism that her visit could help the Biden administration correct its focus on the immigration issue and contrast with the Trump administration’s intransigent stance on border security.
“They should own this and they should solve it, because it requires a two-party solution,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed reporting