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WASHINGTON – Vice President Kamala Harris pushed back against criticisms she's received for not visiting the U.S.-Mexico border as she leads the White House's efforts to address a surge of migration to the U.S.
During an interview with NBC News that aired Tuesday, host Lester Holt cited criticism of her decision not to go to the border and asked whether she has plans to visit.
"At some point, you know, we are going to the border," she said. "We've been to the border. So this whole thing about the border. We've been to the border. We've been to the border."
"You haven't been to the border," Holt noted.
"And I haven't been to Europe," the vice president responded. "And I mean, I don't, understand the point that you're making. I'm not discounting the importance of the border."
Harris went on to say "I care about what's happening at the border."
Harris took her first trip abroad to Guatemala and Mexico, where she met with Guatemala President Alejandro Giammattei on Monday, and on Tuesday is meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The trip was part of her focus on addressing the root causes of why migrants from Central America are heading to the U.S.-Mexico border.
There has been a dramatic increase of migrants coming to the U.S.-Mexico border over the past several months. In April, border patrol officials encountered a record number 178,622 migrants at the border, which includes unaccompanied children, families and single adults.
Some lawmakers have criticized President Joe Biden and Harris for not visiting the U.S.-Mexico border. Many Republican lawmakers have called out Harris in particular given her role of addressing the root causes. Harris, however, has said that she is strictly focused on root causes of migration and not the situation at the border. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat who represents parts of the border in Texas, has also been critical of Harris and Biden for not visiting the border.
"I'm in Guatemala because my focus is dealing with the root causes of migration," she told Holt. "There may be some who think that that is not important, but it is my firm belief that if we care about what's happening at the border, we better care about the root causes and address them. And so that's what I'm doing."
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has made several visits to the U.S.-Mexico border. The White House has also previously said that Biden gets regular updates as to what is happening at the border.
Harris on Monday during a press conference with Giammattei also rejected the criticisms she is facing for not heading to the United States' southern border, saying that she went to Guatemala 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."
"I will continue to be focused on that kind of work as opposed to grand gestures," she said.
During her interview with NBC News, Harris noted that it will take time to see results from her efforts to help mitigate migration to the U.S.-Mexico border.
"There is not going to be a quick fix," she said. "We are not going to see an immediate return. But we're going to see progress. The real work is going to take time to manifest itself. Will it be worth it? Yes. Will it take some time? Yes."
Reach Rebecca Morin at Twitter @RebeccaMorin_
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kamala Harris in Lester Holt interview pushes back on border criticism