Pressed by NBC’s Lester Holt earlier this month about why she hasn’t visited the U.S.-Mexico border to personally witness the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the unforgiving desert, Vice President Kamala Harris tried to make light of a deadly serious situation.
“I haven’t been to Europe. I don’t understand the point you’re making,” Harris quipped, her words falling as flat as a TV sitcom missing its laugh track.
Holt’s question seemed pretty straightforward: Why hasn’t Harris, who was tapped by President Joe Biden in March to lead efforts to stem the crisis on the southern border, yet visited it? Harris recently returned to the U.S. from her first international trip as VP, visiting with leaders in Mexico and Guatemala. She promised Central American countries $4 billion in foreign aid over the coming years (no details on how that money will get to would-be immigrants) and when in Guatemala City told those thinking of making the journey to the United States: “Do not come.”
Then she took her own advice and didn’t make a stop at our nation’s southern border.
Maybe that’s because once there, she might have seen the 14-foot barrier near Santa Teresa, from which two human smugglers callously dropped two young sisters in late March. Border agents rescued the Ecuadorian girls – one 5 years old, the other 3 – after the gangsters completed their end of the bargain and just trotted away.
She might have toured the 35-foot border wall near El Paso, where police said a 24-year-old Mexican national fell to his death June 11 while trying to scale it.
She might have had the opportunity to ask a group of migrants why they left a 20-year-old man behind in Sunland Park. His body was found June 10 outside an elementary school. He had made it a mile into the United States before being abandoned to die of heat-related illness.
With about 900,000 migrants apprehended at our southern border already this year, there’s a lot to see and a lot of people who have a wrenching tale to tell. Immigration officials say border agents made 180,000 apprehensions at the Mexican border in May alone. There were 178,000 apprehensions in April and 172,000 in March, each subsequent month a 20-year high.
And there are record numbers of children traveling by themselves. Border Patrol and U.S. Health and Human Services had almost 17,000 migrant children in custody last week, all of whom need care while authorities search for family members and sponsors in the United States.
Journalist Reyes Mata III recently shared some stories of the migrants with Journal readers. One of those he spoke with for his June 15 story was Iris Johana Banegas, a 33-year-old mother who left her two daughters, ages 11 and 16, behind in Honduras. “The decision to leave, it was so hard, to leave my girls. I cried all the way,” she said. Banegas traveled for five months with her husband and 5-year-old daughter with hopes of obtaining asylum in the United States.
Now, she is one of thousands of migrants whose entry into the U.S. has been delayed by Title 42, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initiative implemented in March 2020 that prohibits entry into the United States of unvaccinated immigrants who may have traveled through areas with high infection rates. The law has sent 867,000 immigrants back to Mexico from its inception to May of this year. It’s one of former President Trump’s policies the Biden administration has continued.
Mata also spoke with Jessica Corley, coordinator for nonprofit agencies in the Albuquerque region that provide help to asylum-seekers. Corley says nobody wants to flee their country, but the caravans of migrants speak otherwise. “There is not one parent who would not do what they are doing to protect their kids,” Corley says.
Thank goodness she’s wrong. Most Central American parents don’t send their unaccompanied children on a 1,800-mile, one-way trek through the Chihuahuan desert. Releasing a child into the hands of gangsters for a grueling and perilous journey is an incredibly risky and irresponsible thing for a parent to do – whatever the motive.
Will the gangsters protect children from being sexually assaulted? Do the criminal outfits provide health care and medicine, or even fresh water and shoes? People who pay these gangsters thousands of dollars initially and sometimes an additional ransom later ensure these criminal enterprises continue to flourish and exploit desperate people.
Harris and Biden need to see firsthand the horrible mess they’ve both inherited and enhanced. U.S. Customs and Border protection says at least 148 immigrants died along the border between October and the end of April. Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol agents are responding to about one fatality a week, most of whom drowned in the Rio Grande or nearby canals or got lost on vast ranches and died of exposure or dehydration.
With temperatures in Arizona, New Mexico and South Texas routinely in the triple-digits, more people are going to die in the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts if the migrant caravans continue.
The Biden administration abruptly stopped border wall construction and then reversed Trump’s “remain in Mexico” program, so Biden and Harris own the crisis now, with its new flood of immigrants.
The question is: What are they going to do to stop the human trafficking of hundreds of thousands of human beings risking life and limb only to be disappointed, while ensuring a manageable number of immigrants can get safely into the United States to seek a better life?
Harris’ decision not to stop at the nation’s 1,250-mile border on her first foreign trip south was an abdication of leadership. It also created an opportunity for Trump to reclaim the spotlight at the border during a planned June 30 trip with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Is that what Harris wanted or what Americans and immigrants need right now?
No. And the more our so-called border czar continues to avoid the border, the more questions she will face from journalists like Holt. And the fewer answers she’ll hear from migrants like Banegas.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.