Kamala Harris photo

Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on the Vice President's Trip to El Paso, Texas

June 24, 2021

Via Teleconference

6:37 P.M. EDT

MS. SANDERS: All right, everyone. Thank you so much for your patience, and thank you for joining us today. My name is Symone Sanders, and I am the Senior Advisor and Chief Spokesperson to Vice President Harris.

Today, we are here to discuss the Vice President's visit to El Paso, Texas, tomorrow. I really -- we all really appreciate you all joining this call.

This information on this call will be on the record, and it will be embargoed until the conclusion of the call.

Before I get into the details, I would like to note my colleagues that will be joining us today. First, Rohini Kosoglu, the Domestic Policy Advisor the Vice President. And we are also happy to be joined by Tyler Moran, Special Assistant to the President for Immigration for the Domestic Policy Council. Grateful to both of them for being with us today.

So, during Vice President Harris's travel to El Paso, Texas, she will be accompanied by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Senator and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Dick Durbin, and Congresswoman Escobar.

This trip is building on the Vice President's diplomatic work with Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

The Vice President's trip to Guatemala and Mexico earlier this year was about the root causes, and this border visit tomorrow is about the effects -- the border. Both of these trips, both of the visits the Vice President is doing -- has done and will do, frankly -- will inform the administration's Root Causes Strategy.

As Vice President Harris said during her trip to Guatemala and Mexico: What happens at the border matters and is directly connected to what is happening in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. It is directly connected to the work of addressing the root causes of migration. And if we want to list them -- I mean, I could list a number of them. Today, I'll talk about -- I mean, there's poverty, there's corruption, violence, and a climate crisis -- all of which the Vice President raised on her trip earlier this month.

As the former Attorney General and the Senator from California, the Vice President has traveled to the border previously and knows firsthand the problems and challenges at the border.

El Paso is important. It represents larger border dynamics and it is a critical, critical part of understanding the human experience of migration. El Paso is a vibrant border city. It has three major ports of entry. In El Paso, there are a significant number of migrants arriving, and processing has been put in place for unaccompanied minors.

The Vice President's trip tomorrow will also shed a spotlight on the administration's work to build a fair, humane, and orderly immigration system.

The Biden-Harris administration inherited what we would argue was a broken and inhumane immigration system. The previous administration's policies led to chaos at the border, family separation, inhumane conditions, dismal diplomacy towards and with Central America.

What is happening at the border is a direct result of a broken immigration system that has been ignored for far too long. Since the President and Vice President have taken office, they have been focused on addressing immigration at every level, establishing lawful pathways, addressing the root causes, and again restoring a fair, orderly, and humane means for asylum.

Now I'd like to share a few specific details about the Vice President's visit on the ground tomorrow. While in El Paso, the Vice President will tour the El Paso Central Processing Center, also known locally as "CPC." This is a CBP -- Customs and Border Patrol -- facility. She will be doing a walking tour of the facility and she will receive an operational briefing. And this particular briefing will cover the operations of the facility, the latest advancements in technology, and the facility's efforts and the administration's efforts to combat transnational crime.

Following the tour, Vice President Harris will also hold a conversation with advocates from faith-based NGOs, and Shelter and Legal Service Providers. There will be a pool spray at the top of that meeting.

Additionally, at the end of her trip, Vice President Harris -- joined by Secretary Mayorkas, Chairman Durbin, and Congresswoman Escobar -- will deliver remarks to press and will look forward to taking some questions tomorrow.

So, at this point, I'm going to turn it over to Rohini Kosoglu, the Vice President's Domestic Policy Advisor. And just a reminder, this call is on the record, but it is embargoed until the conclusion of the call.


MS. ROHINI: Thanks, Symone. So, I just want to give a little history on the Vice President's record on these issues.

As many of you know, Vice President Harris has spent her career fighting for immigrants. As Attorney General and United States Senator, she has worked on these issues from a border state with the largest undocumented immigrant population. She has been a leading champion of DACA. She's opposed the harmful policies of the Trump administration and continues to champion our immigrant communities.

In the U.S. Senate, then-Senator Kamala Harris held the Trump administration accountable for cruel and inhumane policies and mismanagement of our immigration system. As many of you know, she led the efforts to push back on family separation. She was one of the first senators to ask questions on the family separation policy in March of 2017. And she consistently pressed DHS officials on this policy throughout her time in the Senate.

She also introduced legislation to reunify families, known as the REUNITE Act, in direct contrast with the Trump administration.

She fought for DREAMers. Her first year in the Senate, she was an original cosponsor of the DREAM Act, now referred to as the American Dream and Promise Act. And in 2017, she asked then-Secretary -- DHS Secretary John Kelly, during his nomination hearing, whether he would uphold the DACA program and questioned him about the use of law enforcement to target and deport DREAMers. During that hearing, he declined to answer, and Vice President Harris, at the time, voted against his nomination.

In November 2017, during the nomination hearing for DHS Secretary-designee Kirstjen Nielsen, she asked her whether she would commit to not using enforcement -- immigration enforcement against DACA recipients or their information for immigration enforcement. And Kirstjen Nielsen replied that, as Secretary of the DHS, she would not do either. So, Vice President Harris was then able to secure a commitment from Secretary Nielsen.

She's also worked to ensure a more fair, orderly, and humane immigration system by introducing legislation -- one of her first bills -- to ensure access to counsel and lead the effort to end the detention of pregnant women by the Trump administration.

Her issues, as we've talked about, are not -- she's not new to this. As Attorney General, the Vice President undertook initiatives to combat transnational criminal organizations and support migrant children.

She, in the past, in 2014, led a bipartisan delegation of State Attorneys General to Mexico to fight transnational criminal organizations. And, as Attorney General, she also worked with local advocates to marshal legal services for Central American migrant families and unaccompanied minors.

She worked with major law firms on -- to work with them on the ground and legal service providers to increase access to counsel.

So, as we said, none of this is new. The Vice President is undertaking the important work of addressing the root causes of migration and using her experience in this way and -- focused on giving people a sense of hope.

So, with that, I will pass it to Tyler Moran, Special Assistant to the President for Immigration for the Domestic Policy Council.

MS. MORAN: Hey, everyone. I hope you're doing well. I'm here to talk about the progress that the Biden-Harris administration has made at the border. We talk a lot about the fact that we take a comprehensive view of the border and we focus on the factors that drive people to migrate, in addition to the border itself.

So Symone noted the Vice President's work to address the root causes of migration is directly connected to why people come to the border. So the administration, since day one, has been hard at work to build a fair, humane, and orderly immigration system after four years of chaos and cruelty, and an immigration system and infrastructure that was gutted. There weren't enough beds for unaccompanied kids. They'd cut aid to Central America, shut down the asylum system, and doubled the immigration court backlogs.

So, in five short months, the administration has made a tremendous amount of progress. After a whole-of-government effort, we have significantly reduced the number of children in Border Patrol stations and the length of time that they spend in HHS care. Aid has been sent to the region to help communities rebuild after the hurricanes, to provide resources to address the drought, to create affordable housing, to improve conditions so people can stay in their countries.

There are very few legal pathways for people to migrate, so the administration is expanding and building those pathways. We've already stood up 6,000 H-2B worker visas, and we've restarted the Central American Minors Program that the former administration shut down so kids can apply from their home country to reunite with their parents in the U.S. And we recently expanded that program to make approximately 100,000 more eligible parents in the U.S.

We are creating mechanisms for people to seek protection from the region. We increased the refugee quota, so there's 5,000 refugees slots for the region, and we're already interviewing people. And a migration resource center was set up to provide individuals with protection screening and referrals.

The administration is also cracking down on criminal organizations and fighting corruption. While in the region, the Vice President announced the new anti-corruption task force and a smuggling and trafficking task force in Guatemala.

And lastly, we're rebuilding our asylum system that was gutted by the previous administration. We've been processing unaccompanied children, vulnerable individuals, and people who were part of Trump's MPP program -- and we've processed 12,000 people to date.

So, our vision is a fair, orderly, and humane immigration system where we can process those seeking asylum at our border, we can build protection programs in the region, we can invest in the region to improve conditions in sending countries, and we can create more legal channels for people to migrate. We know we have more to do to rebuild, and the Vice President's work is key to our success.

So, with that, I'll turn it back.

MS. SANDERS: Thank you so much, Tyler and Rohini. We will now take a couple of questions. As a reminder, this call is on the record, but it is embargoed until the conclusion of the call. And if you would like to ask a question, please just use the "raise your hand" function, and we will let a couple things populate.

All right, our first question will come from Jordan Fabian. Jordan, your line should be unmuted. Perhaps it is not, but it will be shortly.

Q: (Inaudible) questions for all of you. First of all, you know, the Vice President has received some criticism for going to El Paso instead of the lower Rio Grande Valley where border apprehensions have been higher. So you can -- can you explain why you decided not to go to that region?

And also, to respond to those who say the scheduling of this trip was essentially bowing to political pressure from Republicans and some Democrats who've been attacking the Vice President on this issue. Thanks.

MS. SANDERS: Thank you for those questions, Jordan. I will start. And if any of my colleagues would like to hop in if they feel I'm not sufficient, please feel free.

First, El Paso is really representative of what is happening at the border -- from California, all the way through Texas, and beyond -- when it comes to providers in the region; when -- at the border and what is happening there when it comes to processing and the facilities; when it comes to the actual community. It is extremely representative.

I would also note that El Paso was also the place -- the birthplace, if you will, of the previous administration's family separation policy. It was piloted there in 2017 before it was widely applied in 2018.

So, El Paso has an important story to tell. It is an important part of what is happening at the border writ large. And important progress has been made, and there is progress that we will discuss. Tyler has talked about it already, and you can expect to hear more from Congresswoman Escobar and others on that tomorrow.

Oh, and your second question -- I'm so sorry. A response to -- I think I got your question -- a response to the criticism from Republicans.

Look, the -- this administration does not take their cues from Republican criticism, nor from the former President of the United States of America. We have said, over a number of different occasions -- and the Vice President has said, over the course -- over the last three months, that she would go to the border. She has been before. She would go again. She would go when it was appropriate, when it made sense.

And this trip tomorrow, this timing is what made sense both for the Vice President's schedule, but also for our partners on the ground. And we're very much looking forward to getting to El Paso tomorrow.

Okay, I think our next question will come from Averi Harper. Averi, I think your line is unmuted.

Q: Hi, Symone. Thanks so much for taking my question. I was just wondering: You know, are there any parts of this Root Causes Strategy that you all expect to have a tangible impact on the number of migrants presenting themselves at the border in the near future -- say, like, in the next six months?

MS. MORAN: Symone, this is Tyler. Do you want me to take that?

MS. SANDERS: Yes, ma'am.

MS. MORAN: So there are a couple of things, Averi. So, you know, one is the -- the H-1B visas. You know, we allocated 6,000 visas so people who are seeking work can come here through lawful pathways.

And then the Central American Minors Program -- so we reopened the program a few months ago and have already started to process and bring kids in. And now that expansion will create even more legal ways for kids to come to this country.

MS. SANDERS: Okay, our next question will come from Gabrielle at KFOX14. Pardon me -- Gabriella. I believe your line is unmuted.

Q: Hi, thanks for taking questions. My question is in regards to the migrant shelter at Fort Bliss. There have been some reports from former employees that the conditions there are, quote, "unacceptable." So will the VP be visiting Fort Bliss and those migrant shelters? And if not, why not?

MS. SANDERS: Thank you for the question. So, first, I -- I will note that -- and I don't know if you joined late, Gabriella, but I will -- I will go back for everyone -- that tomorrow the Vice President will visit the -- a CBP facility known as a "central processing center" in El Paso. That is a CBP -- Customs and Border Patrol -- facility. And that will be the facility that she will visit and tour, and that visit will be followed by a meeting with advocates and practitioners.

Specifically, as it relates to your question about Fort Bliss: The administration is concerned by these reports, and we do know that HHS has taken steps to address them. So, it is -- it is -- it -- we're taking this extreme- -- very seriously.

This is serious for the President and the Vice President. And we know it's serious and important to HHS to get to the bottom of this and ensure that the highest standards are being upheld. And I know that HHS and Secretary Becerra have taken a number of questions on this over the course of today. And I refer you to them for any additional questions about specifics at the Fort Bliss facility.

MS. MORAN: Symone, this is Tyler. I'll just add that a number of improvements have been made since those declarations came out. There are now over 50 mental health professionals on site at Fort Bliss and counselors at all other emergency influx facilities.

They've also increased case management services by 95 percent from April to May. So there have been a number of steps that have been taken to improve that facility.

MS. SANDERS: Thanks, Tyler. I think our next question we're going to go to Amna from PBS. Amna, I believe your line is unmuted, and we're happy to take your question.

Q: Hey, Symone. Thanks so much for taking our questions. So does the Vice President plan on meeting and speaking directly with any migrants themselves, either in the CPC or when she visits with the NGOs and shelters there?

And also, can you tell us if there's going to be any discussion on the ground about potential changes or additional amendments to Title 42?

And I ask because a number of the folks we've spoken to --specifically on the ground in El Paso -- have been saying they're concerned that they don't quite have the resources in place if Title 42 was to be changed to receive what would be an influx of migrants. So I just wonder if that's a priority on the ground for the Vice President? Thanks.

MS. SANDERS: So, I will take the first part of the question, and then I will invite our expert, Tyler, to jump in on the Title 42 piece.

But in terms of who the Vice President will meet with, yes, you can expect that Vice President Harris and the group traveling -- Chairman Durbin, Congresswoman Escobar, Secretary Mayorkas -- will meet with migrants who are at that CPC facility.

So, I don't have any additional details to read out to you at this time, but we will absolutely keep you all posted on those interactions.

MS. MORAN: And on Title 42, we know that we are increasing vaccination rates and that there's going to be a day when the order is no longer leaded [sic] -- needed. And we are planning for that day.

I'll just note that we still are in the midst of a pandemic. And there are people coming to the border who come from high transmission countries where the CDC has advised travelers to avoid. And because we process people in congregate settings, we're still working under COVID protocols that restrict the number of people in our facilities.

So we are working very closely with the CDC and health experts at DHS to make that determination. Thanks.

MS. SANDERS: Thanks, Tyler. And I think this is going to have to be our last question, so we will go to Jeremy Diamond. Your line should be unmuted.

While Jeremy is getting unmuted, I will say if we do not -- I know there were a number of people on this call -- again, thank you all so much for joining. If we did not get to your question, please send us an email and we will work to follow up over the course of this evening.

And each of us will be up very, very early tomorrow morning. One could argue we may not go to bed. So we will be available and around to answer your questions.

But, Jeremy, if your line is unmuted, please ask your question.

Q: Hey, Symone. Thanks so much. Given that the Vice President has been to the border before -- as Senator and as Attorney General of California -- what is she hoping that she can learn this time or see this time that she hasn't previously?

And as it relates to the contrast with the Trump administration's policy: You mentioned that it was the birthplace of the family separation policy -- to what extent should we expect that the Vice President will actually draw that contrast directly herself in remarks while she's on the ground? Thanks.

MS. SANDERS: So, I don't have specific remarks from the Vice President to preview on this call tonight, Jeremy.

But, you know, I will note that El Paso being the birthplace -- birthplace of the previous administration's family separation policy is an important part of the story here and one that you can expect we will continue to tell tomorrow on the ground.

You know, the Vice President's trip -- this is really about building on the work that she has been doing; this is not happening in a vacuum. And it is not just to -- just to go and see; this is the -- this is, as -- as you noted -- she has seen before. She has not been to this particular facility previously in this particular place in El Paso, but Vice President Harris has, in fact, been to the border.

And I cannot stress enough this idea of cause and effect. When you talk about addressing the root causes of migration, all of -- all of the -- the entirety of the immigration work of the administration is connected.

What's happening at the border is directly connected to what's happening in Central America. What's happening in Central America is directly connected to what's happening at the U.S.-Mexico border. One could argue that what's happening in Central America -- in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador -- is the cause. What we see at the U.S.-Mexico border is the effect.

And that -- and -- and this trip that Vice President Harris will take tomorrow -- along with Secretary Mayorkas and Chairman Durbin and Congresswoman Escobar -- will really build on that work to continue to tell that story. And again, will inform this root causes strategy that the administration will release in the coming weeks.

All right. I think that is all the time we have. Again, this call was on the record. It was embargoed until the conclusion of this call. And if you have any additional questions -- I know we did not get to everyone. I apologize. We will be around to answer your questions. And so please feel free to reach out to Sabrina, myself, or Rachel.

And I know we will see some of you tomorrow. And we will have additional information on the trip in the morning. Thank you so much for taking your time and joining us this evening.

Kamala Harris, Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on the Vice President's Trip to El Paso, Texas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/350592

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