US Vice Pres. Kamala Harris

Vice-President Kamala Harris has faced pressure to visit the US-Mexico border, as she tries to tackle a record migration spike.

Ms. Harris had a testy exchange with a journalist who asked why she had not gone to the US southern boundary.

Members of Ms. Harris’s own Democratic party meanwhile criticised her after she warned against illegal immigration.

On a visit to Mexico on Tuesday, she said Washington aimed to boost economic development in the region.

She and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said it was in the interests of both countries to address the root causes of migration.

About 178,000 undocumented migrants arrived at the US southern border this April, the highest total in more than two decades.

The vice-president’s staff initially said the border was part of Ms Harris’s portfolio when US President Joe Biden assigned her in March to stem migration from Latin America. But aides have recently been seeking to distance her from the politically toxic crisis.

While recent public polling suggests a generally favourable view of the Biden administration’s policies on the economy and pandemic, its handling of the immigration crisis has proven less popular.

Asked in an interview with NBC News aired on Tuesday morning whether she had any plans to visit the border, Ms Harris threw up her arms and responded: “At some point. You know… we are going to the border. We have been to the border.”

When the host pointed out that she had not herself visited the region, she said with a laugh: “And I haven’t been to Europe. I don’t understand the point you’re making.”

migrant kids in campsimage copyrightReuters
Children detained at a holding facility for undocumented migrants in Donna, Texas, in March

Ms Harris again brushed off questions about why she had not gone to the border as she spoke to reporters on Tuesday in Mexico.

“It would be very easy to say,” she said, “we’ll travel to one place and therefore it’s solved. I don’t think anybody thinks that that would be the solution.”

Pressed on why she would not visit the border, Ms Harris said she had done so when she was a senator for California.

Ms Harris’s remarks came at the end of a two-day visit to Guatemala and Mexico, where she met both countries’ leaders in a bid to bolster diplomatic ties and help stem undocumented migration to the US.

Capping off her trip on Tuesday, Ms Harris met President López Obrador privately for more than an hour, said the vice-president’s aides.

It is unclear whether she pushed Mexico’s president to do more to detain migrants en route to the US. Mr López Obrador, a left-wing leader, has previously blamed the Biden administration for causing the record surge in undocumented migration.

An aide to Ms Harris later said she had pledged $130m (£92m) in US aid to support Mexican workers’ rights. She has already promised $310m to alleviate the impact of the pandemic and hurricanes last year in Central America.

Back at the White House daily briefing on Tuesday, Biden spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked why Ms Harris had not visited the US-Mexico boundary.

“I think that at some point she may go to the border,” Ms Psaki said. “We’ll see.”