Vice President Kamala Harris, who less than a year ago expressed support for decriminalizing illegal border crossings, will spearhead the White House's response to the crisis at the southern border.
President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he can "think of nobody who is better qualified" to handle the situation than Harris, who he said "speaks for me." The decision comes as the White House struggles to deal with a historic surge in border apprehensions. U.S. Border Patrol agents are currently detaining more than 600 unaccompanied migrant children per day, far more than the 370 daily apprehensions seen during the 2019 migrant surge.
While top administration officials claim that Harris's first goal will be to quell the surge of illegal migrants, the Democrat has a history of dismissing illegal immigration and the federal government's role in stopping it. As a presidential candidate last summer, Harris said she backed decriminalizing illegal border crossings and would "not make it a crime" to illegally cross the border if she was elected.
Harris's lax approach to border enforcement preceded her run for president—in 2018, Harris encouraged a caravan of more than 7,000 migrants who were seeking to enter the country illegally. The then-California senator said "we are welcoming" as a nation. The comments came just days after migrants violently stormed the Guatemala-Mexico border chanting "we are going to the United States" and "nobody is going to stop us." It also came as former Department of Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen warned that the caravan could be exploited by "transnational criminal organizations"—a dynamic that both Republicans and Democrats say is at play during the current crisis.
Harris also faced criticism as a senator for her 2018 line of questioning toward then-acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement director Ronald Vitiello. The Democrat compared the "perception" of ICE to the Ku Klux Klan, implying that the agency uses "fear and force" to carry out immigration laws. Former Biden campaign senior adviser and current Harris chief spokeswoman Symone Sanders defended the questioning, saying that she feels as though "ICE currently operates with surgical precision in terms of picking out and hunting down folks … based upon the color of their skin."
Harris campaigned against the Trump administration's immigration policies, which she said consisted of "putting babies in cages at the border in the name of security." Harris also accused the U.S. government of committing "human rights abuses." Thousands of migrant children, however, are now being held by the Biden administration in holding facilities intended for adults.
While the Biden administration has resisted categorizing the current border surge as a "crisis," Harris on Wednesday said it was a "huge problem" that is "not going to be solved overnight."