Kamala Harris will meet with migration experts Wednesday, stepping into fraught role

Vice President Kamala Harris will step into her new role addressing the causes of the swell of migrants arriving at the southern border, meeting Wednesday with outside experts on Central America’s Northern Triangle countries.

Harris’s discussion with officials and outside advisers, announced by the White House Tuesday, will follow a slew of announcements by the White House on migration issues, including a deal struck with Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala to boost enforcement along their borders. The virtual meeting will take place in the vice president’s ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

Harris has come under fire since soon after President Joe Biden tasked her with the job.

Republican lawmakers have questioned Harris’s whereabouts amid the crisis as she traveled to California, a border state, to tout the administration’s $2.2 trillion American Jobs Plan. And in repeated visits to overburdened federal facilities housing migrant children, they have urged Harris to make the trip.

Aides have not said when Harris plans to travel to the Central America region but have stressed that the vice president is not “doing the border,” so to speak, or undertaking the operational challenges of housing growing numbers of unaccompanied migrant children.

In recent weeks, top White House officials traveled to Mexico and Northern Triangle countries, where they discussed measures to halt the flow with top officials.

Taking steps to forge a solution to the spiking number of arrivals along the U.S.-Mexico border, Harris will host a virtual roundtable of experts on Wednesday, according to the schedule.

White House officials and aides to Harris did not respond to requests for comment for further detail.

At issue is whether Biden’s and Harris’s strategy to address the increasing number of people seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border will succeed in arresting the increase in arrivals.

Former President Donald Trump’s effort to deport migrants immediately following their arrival in the U.S. shrank the number of people held in U.S. custody, but White House officials said this was neither a long-term nor humane solution.

The White House argues Trump’s strategy is in part responsible for the flood evident today, as people who were returned across the border attempt new crossings.

“The vice president understands well that there are many factors that are leading children and families to leave their homes and take the treacherous journey to arrive at our border,” a senior White House official told reporters, announcing Harris’s role. “This includes economic instability, violence, corruption, and most recently, extreme weather incidents like the two hurricanes at the end of last year.”

A senior White House official said earlier this month that Harris aimed to boost economic conditions in the region, lessening the push factors migrants say are driving them to leave.

Last week, as Ricardo Zuniga, the State Department’s special envoy to the Northern Triangle, visited El Salvador and Guatemala, the White House made several announcements targeting Mexico and the Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

The U.S. Agency for International Development said it would issue disaster response aid to assist the recovery from two hurricanes that devastated the area last year. Zuniga further detailed a $2 million contribution to an anti-corruption drive in El Salvador. El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, refused to meet with him, according to the Associated Press.

The White House is also weighing whether to send some migrants conditional cash transfers in exchange for remaining at home, White House border coordinator Roberta Jacobson told Reuters.

Jacobson has bolstered key relationships with Mexican officials and the Northern Triangle governments since joining the National Security Council earlier this year.