Kamala Harris Says She and Joe Biden Will ‘Absolutely’ Visit U.S. Southern Border Facilities
President Biden announced Wednesday that Vice President Harris will lead the U.S. response at the southern border, where thousands of unaccompanied children are being detained
Vice President Kamala Harris said Wednesday she and President Joe Biden will "absolutely" visit detention facilities at the U.S. southern border, where thousands of migrant children are currently being detained after arriving to the country without their parents.
The vice president's vow to take a firsthand look at what a growing number of lawmakers have described as a "crisis" in recent weeks comes as the Biden administration faces growing criticism over the influx of children being held in detention facilities meant for adults.
"Absolutely we will go down to the border, and I've been down to the border," Harris, 56, said during an interview with CBS This Morning.
Later in the day, Biden, 78, announced Harris would lead the federal government's efforts at the border, where a dramatic increase in the number of unaccompanied children arriving at the border has taken place since November, according to Customs and Border Protection data.
Biden said Harris would "lead our efforts with Mexico and the northern triangle and the countries that are going to need help in stemming" the increase in migration at the border.
Harris told CBS the U.S. needs to "deal with the root causes" of increased migration from Central American countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, which make up the northern triangle region.
CBP data shows more than 7,200 children from those countries arrived at the border without parents in February, roughly doubling the 3,600 who arrived in January.
The recent increase is causing thousands of children to be held in border patrol facilities meant only to temporarily hold migrant children for no more than 72 hours.
After that, migrant children are supposed to be transferred to a more hospitable facility run by the Department of Health and Human Services. However, thousands of migrant children have been held longer than the legal three-day period, according to a recent NPR report.
Harris said she was "frustrated" with the situation the children are now left in, but asked for patience.
"It's going to take some time," the vice president said.
CBS News reports roughly 16,000 children are currently being detained by the U.S. and 5,000 of them are currently in the custody of the CBP, which is supposed to transfer an unaccompanied child to an HHS facility.
The migrant minors then wait at HHS facilities, which refuge advocates say have better conditions and are more fit to house children, while the minors are matched up with a U.S. sponsor and then wait to go through the immigration process.
Biden signed an executive order shortly after taking office that stopped a controversial Trump-era policy of denying both adults and children refuge in the U.S. while awaiting movement on their immigration process.
The Biden administration is still expelling most adults and families because of concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, the White House has said, but the president vowed to accept unaccompanied children arriving at the border.
"It's really a capacity question now," Yael Schacher, a senior U.S. advocate at Refugees International, recently told PEOPLE.
The Biden administration is on track to open six additional facilities being put together to create space for the influx of migrant children, according to CBS.
Earlier this month, Biden directed FEMA, the nation's leading emergency agency, to help locate and construct those spaces.
Biden administration officials have repeatedly pointed fingers at the Trump administration's widely criticized immigration policies while asking for more time to move children to more appropriate facilities.
"The situation on the ground is certainly challenging in part because we inherited a dismantled system that wasn't prepared for processing asylum requests that had left in place," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last week.
Meanwhile, media members were set to get their first glimpse at conditions inside one CBP facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas on Wednesday, after the White House denied access for weeks.
Pictures from inside another facility in Donna, Texas—taken by Rep. Henry Cuellar and published by Axios on Monday—showed children cramped in overcrowded "pods," some sleeping on floors with tin foil blankets.
"I have said repeatedly from the very outset a Border Patrol station is no place for a child," Department of Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who oversees immigration, told CNN on Sunday. "That is why we are working around the clock to move these children out of the Border Patrol facilities into the care and custody of the Department of Health and Human Services that shelters them."