President Joe Biden tasked Vice President Kamala Harris with overseeing efforts with Central American countries to stem the flow of migrants to the U.S. southern border, the first major issue Biden has assigned directly to his number 2 in government.

“I asked her, the vice president, today, because she is the most qualified person to do it, to lead our efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle, and the countries that can help, they need help to stop the movement of so many people, the migration to our southern border,” Biden told reporters before an immigration meeting in the White House State Dining Room.

“I said when we became a team and were elected, the vice president would be the last person in the room,” he said. “She doesn’t realize that that means she has all the assignments.”

The task mimics Biden’s own efforts in 2014 and 2015, when then-President Barack Obama asked him to lead diplomatic efforts in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador after a wave of unaccompanied minors from those countries began arriving in the United States. United.

Migrants are once again arriving at the border at increasing levels, causing a struggle by the administration to accommodate them and a political problem for the White House.

Thank you, Mr. President, for trusting me. There is no question that this is a challenging situation, ”Harris said Wednesday. “While we are clear that people should not come to the border now, we also understand that we will enforce the law and that also, because we can chew gum and walk at the same time, we must address the root causes that cause people to do the walk – as the president has described— to come here. ”

Kamala Harris’s goal

Officials said Harris would focus his efforts on stemming the current flow of migrants and developing a broader strategic partnership with Central American countries based on respect and shared values.

“Starting today, the Northern Triangle and Mexico will know that there is a senior official dedicated to this effort,” a senior administration official said Wednesday, advancing Harris’s new role.

The vice president, until now, had not been tasked with a key portfolio issue other than Biden. Instead, she acted as a “full partner” with Biden, often physically appearing alongside him in all of the administration’s efforts, including his self-proclaimed top priority of managing the coronavirus pandemic.

People close to Harris said foreign policy and national security are key areas he wants to develop in his portfolio, and he has taken steps to bolster his expertise since taking office, including speaking to foreign leaders.

During her own presidential run, Harris said she would expand the use of deferred action immigration programs and use executive action to remove the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented people in the United States if she were elected president.

Harris said earlier Wednesday in an interview with CBS News that the White House was frustrated by the current situation.

“Look, we’ve been in office for less than 100 days,” he said. “We are tackling it. We’re dealing with it, but it’s going to take some time, and are we frustrated? Are you frustrated? Yes we are”.

Officials said Kamala Harris would draw on her experience as an attorney general and senator from California, a border state, to inform her diplomatic efforts.

They said she would be supported by Cabinet officials, including the State Department and USAID, and that she would likely speak to leaders of key countries, although she had no specific phone calls for now.

Officials said Biden brought Kamla Harris to the new position because of an inherent level of trust.

“She has experience and lived through this process as vice president,” said an official. “Biden has said over and over again that the person he trusts the most, the person he turns to when there is a difficult problem, is Kamala Harris.”

Still, another official said Harris would approach the matter differently than Biden, who traveled to Guatemala City in 2015 for a trilateral meeting with the leaders of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in part to develop solutions to the migrant problem. of those countries that come en masse to the United States.

“Vice President Harris took up this challenge in her own style, in her own way,” the official said.

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