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Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday said she will visit the U.S.-Mexico border but did not say when, as she completed a two-day trip to Guatemala and Mexico.
"Yes, I will and I have before," Harris in response to a question about whether she would visit the border. "Listen, anybody, especially if you’re from California you know, I've spent a lot of time on the border both going there physically and aware of the issues."
Harris was speaking at a media availability after meeting with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as part of the trip that had also seen her visit Guatemala on Monday.
Harris has faced constant criticism about her failure to go to the border since being appointed to lead diplomatic efforts to end the migration crisis in March, and she has been peppered with questions about visiting there on the trip.
The White House has emphasized the "root causes" of the crisis, like poverty, climate change and violence in Central America, and has said that Harris is not in charge of the border per se, but the diplomatic outreach to combat the root causes. But Republicans and former Trump officials have charged that to lead those talks, she needs to visit the border.
"The problems are at the U.S.-Mexico border," Sergio de la Pena, who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs during the Trump administration, told Fox News on Tuesday. "The problem is increased illegal immigration to the United States. You deal with it by seeing what is happening at our own border and then you can go back and see other things."
Harris was asked about a border visit on Monday, in a press conference alongside Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, and dismissed a move as a "grand gesture."
"The reason I am here in Guatemala as my first trip as vice president of the United States is because this is one of our highest priorities, and I came here to be here on the ground, to speak with the leader of this nation around what we can do in a way that is significant, is tangible and has real results," she said. "And I will continue to be focused on that kind of work rather than grand gestures.
In an interview with NBC News that aired Tuesday, she laughed off a question about why she hadn’t yet been to the border.
"And I haven’t been to Europe," she laughed. "I don’t understand the point that you’re making."
But by Tuesday evening, she said she would visit the border, although she emphasized her belief that dealing with the root causes in Central America was a key aspect in solving the continuing border crisis -- which has seen a spike in migration, including more than 178,000 migrant encounters and more than 13,000 unaccompanied children in April alone.
"The reality of it is that we need to prioritize what's happening at the border," she said. "And we have to prioritize why people are going to the border. And so let's talk about what's going on in the places that are causing the issue at the border."
At another point, Harris told reporters that most migrants do not wish to leave their homes "and most want to come back."
Despite the controversy over the border visit, Harris declared her visit a success, claiming she had been "successful in making progress."
She touted agreements in Guatemala that set up anti-corruption and anti-smuggling task forces as well as an initiative to promote education and employment opportunities for women and girls.
As for what had been achieved in Mexico, she highlighted a $130 million U.S. investment in Mexican workers’ protections and labor reform, as well as further partnering to address human trafficking and smuggling organizations and a strategic partnership to address root causes of migration in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
However, when asked if she had got an agreement from Mexico to take back more migrant families turned back from the U.S. due to Title 42 public health protections, Harris said, "We didn’t discuss Title 42."
Harris also warned that the issue of the "root causes" would not be solved immediately in a single trip.
"So this work is the work that must be done with a commitment to going deep and making a commitment over a period of time, knowing that nothing that we can do will address it overnight," she said.