NBC anchor Lester Holt recently grilled Vice President Kamala Harris about why she has not visited the U.S.-Mexico border amid an ongoing migration crisis since President Joe Biden appointed her in March to handle the influx of migrants.
The interview, including the heated exchange between Harris and Holt, will air on “NBC Nightly News” on Tuesday, June 8, although portions of conversation were released earlier in the day.
The talk comes amid Harris’ first overseas trip since taking office, a mission to Guatemala and Mexico as a part of diplomatic efforts to stem migration from Central America to the U.S. Harris spent Monday meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei and other community leaders, then traveled to Mexico on Tuesday for a meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
During her sit-down with Holt, Harris said her primary goal is to address the root factors that are causing people to flee to the United States. The remarks come after the vice president strongly discouraged migrants from seeking to come illegally to the U.S.
In Guatemala City, Harris warned would-be migrants not to migrate to the U.S. “I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border,” Harris said. “Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border. There are legal methods by which migration can and should occur, but we, as one of our priorities, will discourage illegal immigration. And I believe if you come to our border you will be turned back.”
On Twitter, New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticized Harris’ message to Guatemalans, calling seeking asylum at the border a “100% legal method of arrival.” Adding that “the US spent decades contributing to regime change and destabilization in Latin America.”
About 100,000 people were encountered at the border in February 2021, putting this year on track to exceed the number of people apprehended there in 2019. In March, CNN reported that the number of unaccompanied children that showed up at the border that month was on track to surpass the number of minors who arrived there in May 2019, which was the highest month of the year for arrests of minors.
But Holt pressured Harris about why she hasn’t gone to the border where Americans are witnessing the crisis with their own eyes. “What they do see at their own border is children being lowered over fences. Children coming over with phone number stenciled on their hands. And so the question has come up … why not visit the border? Why not see what Americans are seeing in this crisis?”
Harris said it’s most important to understand the reasons why people are coming to the border so the problems can be fixed. “There’s not gonna be a quick fix,” Harris said later. “We’re not gonna see an immediate return, but we’re gonna see progress.”
Holt circled back to the issue of a visit to the border a second time, asking “Do you have any plans to visit the border?”
“I, at some point, you know, it, we are going to the border. We have been to the border,” Harris said. “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 retorted.
“And I haven’t been to Europe,” Harris replied, laughing. “I don’t understand the point that you’re making. I’m not discounting the importance of the border,” she said, before adding that she visited Guatemala because she’s dealing with the “root causes” of immigration.
“If we care about what’s happening at the border, we better care about the root causes and address them. So that’s what I’m doing.”
Harris has been criticized, largely by Republicans, for her failure to visit the border as the person in charge of handling the migration crisis.
Lavern Spicer, a Republican south Florida congressional candidate, suggested Harris’ response to the crisis is making “women of color look bad.”
Amy Tarkian, former Nevada GOP chairwoman, also criticized the response Harris offered.
Former Trump communications director Tim Murtaugh shaded Harris for bringing up Europe during the conversation, asking, “is there some crisis on our border with Europe that we’re not aware of?”
At a Tuesday press conference, a reporter told White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki that “Republicans and conservatives are going crazy on Twitter” sending and sharing videos of the interview clip.
The reporter asked whether Harris should in fact visit the border. “Don’t they have a point that if she has this task in front of her should she not see the end cause as well as the root cause of the issue?”
Psaki said Harris may go to the border “at some point” but she had no planned trips to speak of yet. Psaki said Harris is handling her responsibilities by communicating with leaders in Central America about migration but said, “We’re not taking advice” from the Republicans who are offering criticism considering “they were all sitting there” while the initial border crisis began.
The controversy about Harris visiting the border added to an already less-than-ideal trip for the vice president. The trip got off to a rocky start when the plane had to return to Joint Base Andrews due to a “technical issue” about 30 minutes after it took off. She took off again on a separate plane about 90 minutes later.
“I’m good, I’m good. We all said a little prayer, but we’re good,” Harris told reporters as she got off of the plane, while giving offering onlookers a thumbs-up.