Politics

‘When she speaks, she speaks for me’: US President Joe Biden taps Kamala Harris to lead major initiative

President Joe Biden has tapped Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the White House effort to tackle the migration challenge at the US southern border.

Biden made the announcement on Wednesday as he and Harris met at the White House with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandra Mayorkas and others to discussed the increase in migrants, including many unaccompanied minors, at the border in recent weeks.

In delegating the matter to Harris, Biden is seeking to replicate a dynamic that played out when he served as President Barack Obama’s vice president.

Obama turned to Biden in his first term to lead the White House effort to draw down US troops in Iraq and oversee implementation of stimulus in response to the Great Recession.

“When she speaks, she speaks for me,” Biden said, noting her past work as California’s attorney-general makes her specially equipped to lead the administration’s response.

Joe Biden has handed Kamala Harris the job of dealing with immigration at the US southern border. Credit: EPA

Biden, who has faced stiff criticism from Republicans over the increased flow of migrants, is hoping to show Americans he’s taking the situation at the border seriously.

He also wants to prevent the growing humanitarian and political challenge from overshadowing his administration’s ambitious legislative agenda.

But the high-profile assignment for Harris, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 and is expected to run for the White House again in the future, could be politically fraught.

“Needless to say, the work will not be easy,” Harris said.

“But it is important work.”

Kamala Harris
Vice President Kamala Harris has been assigned the task of stemming immigration on the US border. Credit: AP

Harris is tasked with overseeing diplomatic efforts to deal with issues spurring migration in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, as well as pressing them to strengthen enforcement on their own borders, administration officials said.

She’s also responsible for developing and implementing a long-term strategy that gets at the root causes of migration from those countries.

Biden suggested Donald Trump’s decision to cut $US450 million ($A592 million) funding in 2019 to the region was partly to blame for the situation.

Among the other reasons for the current increase: the thousands of Central American migrants already stuck at the border for months and the persistent scourge of gang violence afflicting their countries.

Vice President Kamala Harris looks on as U.S. President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House.
Vice President Kamala Harris looks on as U.S. President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House. Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Still, the numbers of both unaccompanied minors and families at the border are lower than they were at various points during the Trump administration, including in spring 2019.

Biden made the announcement as a delegation of White House officials and members of Congress travelled to Texas on Wednesday to tour a facility where more than 750 migrant teenagers are being held.

The US in recent weeks has opened more than 10,000 beds across the Southwest in convention centres and former oilfield camps.

It will also open a new 3000-person facility in San Antonio and a 1400-person site in San Diego.

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