- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2021

President Biden acknowledged Wednesday that the border is experiencing “serious spikes” of illegal immigration and gave Vice President Kamala Harris the job of fixing it.

In her first top-profile deployment, Ms. Harris will look for ways to stem the flow of people and to work on Mr. Biden’s longer-term goal of nation-building in Central America, where he hopes to mitigate factors that encourage people to leave. Most of the migrant surge originates in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

“I can think of nobody who is better qualified to [lead international negotiations],” Mr. Biden said of his vice president, citing her time as attorney general in California.

Ms. Harris, who also spent four years in the Senate before winning the vice presidency, will take on an issue that has bedeviled administrations dating to the 1980s.

She said she welcomed the dual goals of her mission.

“While we are clear that people should not come to the border now, we also understand that we will enforce the law and that we also — because we can chew gum and walk at the same time — must address the root causes that cause people to make the trek, as the president has described, to come here,” she said.

Ms. Harris is being deployed as Mr. Biden faces withering criticism from Republicans and some Democrats over the surge.

Record numbers of illegal immigrant children are in Border Patrol holding pens, and, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of other migrants have been released directly into communities without sufficient testing. The government says it cannot hold the immigrants or send them back across the border anymore.

Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris have rebuffed calls to visit the border personally. The vice president told “CBS This Morning” on Wednesday that they will go “at some point.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said that attitude “encapsulates the indifference” the Biden team has shown. He told reporters on Capitol Hill that Ms. Harris’ diplomacy isn’t the answer.

“None of the policies have changed that have caused this crisis,” he said, ticking off the yardsticks of a “crisis,” including 4,000 children packed into a facility intended for 250.

Mr. Cruz is leading a group of 18 other senators to the border on Friday.

Mr. Biden heaped blame on the Trump administration for the situation.

“This new surge we are dealing with now started in the past administration, but it is our responsibility to deal with it humanely and to stop what’s happening,” the president told reporters.

While numbers were ticking up after a major COVID-19 trough in March and April, they were holding steady at the end of last year but soared under Mr. Biden.

Migrants say they are rushing to take advantage of what they see as more lenient policies. Although Mr. Biden insists that the border is closed, it is open to many. Unaccompanied juveniles and families with children younger than 7 are let into the country.

The Biden team has been confounded by the surge and confused in its messaging.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last week said the country is on pace for the worst year at the border in two decades. On Wednesday, the White House trumpeted an analysis in The Washington Post that challenged the notion of a surge.

The numbers back up Mr. Mayorkas.

Looking at records dating back to 2009, the Border Patrol recorded more arrests in February than all but two other months. The top two months were during the height of the 2019 surge.

February also was the fourth worst month on record for arrests of unaccompanied juveniles, trailing only the height of the 2019 and 2014 surges.

Mr. Biden has tried some outreach to Mexico, including offering a “loan” of millions of doses of coronavirus vaccine.

Mexico has announced some steps to try to cut the flow of people by deploying thousands more personnel to patrol the usual smuggling routes from Central America to the U.S.

Mexico’s role in stopping the surge of migrants is crucial.

In 2019, during the last surge, Mr. Trump demanded more effort from Mexico. When he felt he wasn’t getting cooperation, he threatened to slap punitive tariffs on Mexican goods.

Mexican officials rushed to Washington to negotiate and struck a deal that involved the deployment of thousands of troops and police to block migrants’ journey. Mexico also agreed to take people the U.S. wanted to push back across the border under what became known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy.

Experts and officials credit that policy for solving the 2019 surge.

Mr. Biden has canceled that policy.

He also canceled cooperative agreements that the Trump administration reached with Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to speed the return of their deportees and to try to block people using their territory as a pathway toward the U.S.

Now Ms. Harris will try to stitch together new agreements.

The Biden team argues that the main solution lies in building more prosperous and stable nations in Central America. He is expected to call for $4 billion over four years for investment in the region in his upcoming budget.

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