Biden names Harris to lead efforts for border migrants

Vice president has forged a reputation as an ally of immigration advocates

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris wears a protective mask while speaking during a meeting in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, March 24, 2021. Biden is meeting with key cabinet members and immigration advisers as he faces mounting pressure to address the influx of migrants that has overwhelmed shelters at the U.S. southern border. Photographer: Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday named Vice President Kamala Harris to lead US efforts with Mexico and Central American countries to try to stem migration.

Mr Biden's decision gives a high-profile assignment to his vice president, a daughter of immigrants who has forged a reputation as an ally of immigration advocates.

As Californian attorney general, Ms Harris had to deal with a major influx of unaccompanied minors at the state's border with Mexico in 2014.

It is a task that comes with some political risks for the possible future presidential candidate.

Border woes have been an intractable problem for several presidents. As vice president, Mr Biden served in a similar role for Barack Obama.

By assigning Ms Harris to handle diplomatic efforts with Central America, Mr Biden is lifting the migration issue to a top priority.

Just two months in office, he is struggling to control an increasing migration challenge along the border with Mexico – a problem the Democrats blamed on the policies of his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.

Mr Biden said the US was going to need help from Mexico and Central America's northern triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

He said Ms Harris "agreed to lead our diplomatic efforts and work with those countries".

"The best way to keep people from coming is to keep them from wanting to leave," Mr Biden said.

He listed gang violence, drug cartels, hurricanes, floods and earthquakes as factors spurring migration.

Ms Harris said the job would "not be easy, but it is important work".

US officials are battling to house and process an increasing number of unaccompanied children, many of whom have been stuck in jail-like border stations for days while they await placement in overwhelmed government-run shelters.

Senior administration officials said Ms Harris's focus would be on regional solutions and working with leaders to make it safer for people to stay in their home countries and make asylum requests there.

"We're going to look at the possibility for people in their home countries in the northern triangle to have a predictable, regular process of seeking asylum there so they don’t have to take this phenomenally dangerous journey or, worse yet, send their children unaccompanied," a senior official said.

Ms Harris is expected to travel to the region but no trips are planned yet, an official said.

Since taking office in January, Ms Harris has been carving a role for herself as a key promoter of Mr Biden’s coronavirus relief bill, the first major legislation the president signed into law.

Much of her focus has been on how the stimulus bill can help women and small businesses.

Ms Harris has also taken an active role in encouraging Americans to be vaccinated.

While she has not had a specific policy portfolio until now, she has had calls with foreign leaders, including key allies such as France and Israel.

Sergio Gonzales, executive director of the Immigration Hub, a migration advocacy group, welcomed Ms Harris's appointment.

Mr Gonzales said it "underscores the seriousness of the Biden-Harris White House to tackle every aspect of our broken immigration system".

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