After visiting Guatemala, Harris will travel to Mexico City

By Virginia Chamlee
June 07, 2021 05:58 PM
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Vice President Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris
| Credit: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty

Kamala Harris headed on her first trip abroad as vice president on Monday, though not without some hiccups and a two-hour delayed departure time.

Roughly 30 minutes into her flight to Guatemala (where, along with Mexico, she will tout the Biden administration's immigration policies during a three-day trip), the Harris' plane was grounded after experiencing technical difficulties.

Reporters said they heard an unusual noise coming from Air Force Two's landing gear, but the plane arrived safely back at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, the Associated Press reported.

"It is a technical issue. There are no major safety concerns," Symone Sanders, Harris' chief spokeswoman, told reporters before landing.

After deplaning, the vice president assured the press she was fine.

"I'm good. I'm good," she said with a laugh, in footage shared by the AP. "We all said a little prayer, but we're good."

Vice President Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris
| Credit: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty

Harris' trip to Guatemala was ultimately delayed two hours due to the issue.

Sanders later offered more details on the situation: "Shortly after takeoff from Joint Base Andrews en route to Guatemala City, the Air Force Two crew noticed the landing gear was not storing as it should, which could lead to further mechanical issues. While there was no immediate safety issue, out of an abundance of caution, they returned to Joint Base Andrews where they have all the parts and mechanics they need to fix the issue. Passengers boarded the back-up C32, which is an Air Force Boeing modified 757."

Once she arrived in Guatemala, Harris held a bilateral meeting with President Alejandro Giammattei before hosting a roundtable with local entrepreneurs as well as community and civil leaders.

"Mr. President I am very proud that this is my first foreign trip as vice president," Harris told Giammattei at the start of the meeting. "It is a reflection of the priority that President Biden placed on this region."

Vice President Kamala Harris
Vice President Kamala Harris (left) and Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei
| Credit: JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP via Getty

Calling the two countries "interconnected," Harris added, "It is important that as we embark on a new era that we recognize the significance and importance of this relationship."

Last week, she said she planned to use the visit to urge Giammettei, 65, to "support the folks who need help in terms of hunger, the economic development piece, the extreme weather" — three factors experts often associate with mass migration.

After leaving Guatemala, Harris will travel to Mexico City where she will meet with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Tuesday.

Harris' trip abroad comes as the Biden administration has grappled with huge numbers of unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border and drawn criticism both from progressives and from many Republicans.

In a May interview, Biden, 78, told the Today show's Craig Melvin that parents in South America and Mexico should not send their children to the U.S.

"Do not come here. Period," he said. "They're in jeopardy making that thousand-mile trek."

Asked whether the situation at the southern border was a "crisis" — as it has been described by advocates as well as Biden's critics and, sometimes, by the president himself — Biden said the situation "is getting urgent action now."

The influx in migrants (particularly unaccompanied minors) from Central American countries has been attributed both to economic and social inequalities as well as a notion that it might be easier to get into the U.S. after Biden's election, given the empathy he displayed compared to Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" approach and Trump's derogatory comments about Latin American migrants.

Border officials encountered a record-breaking 18,960 unaccompanied minors in March, according to government data.

In the first few months of the Biden administration, the massive increase in unaccompanied minors at the border caused crowded conditions at detention-like facilities that had been meant to house children for no more than 72 hours before they're transferred to more hospitable facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Ultimately, unaccompanied migrant children find temporary homes with family sponsors in the U.S. while they wade through the often arduous and arcane immigration process.

Vice President Kamala Harris
Credit: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty

Officials say the number of children being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) dropped 88 percent between late March and late April.

At the height of the increase in migrant kids' arrivals, the White House also drew backlash for a lack of transparency after not allowing journalists to visit the border facilities.

Biden has tapped Harris as the administration's leader on efforts to address migration. The high-profile assignment to address one of the country's thorniest political issues comes with major responsibility, major scrutiny and the potential for harsh criticism.