Vice President Harris arrives in El Paso Friday. It’s part of an effort by the Biden administration to better understand circumstances at the southern border and determine U.S. immigration policy going forward.
Richard Pineda, director of the Sam Donaldson Center for Communication Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso, says Harris’ visit might appear “reactive” to some, especially after she was criticized for not visiting the border sooner, and in light of former President Donald Trump’s announcement that he will visit the border in South Texas next week.
But Pineda says a lot can still be accomplished by Harris’ visit, regardless of what prompted it. For one thing, he says it’s an opportunity to address problems with the asylum system that led to tent camps on the other side of the border because of the so-called remain in Mexico policy, and overcrowding in Border Patrol facilities unequipped to house people long term. Pineda says El Paso has been a “hot zone” for these issues.
“Not only over the course of the last two to three years as the city dealt with the asylum crisis and issues with folks not being allowed into the United States at the ports of entry,” Pineda said, “but [also], you’ll recall that the processing facility that’s been opened at Fort Bliss is the largest in the country.”
And Pineda says seeing conditions at the border in person is important for fixing problems with the immigration system. He says that’s because the Biden administration will have to change policies “line by line” to make any meaningful changes to the overall immigration process.
To be successful, he says the Biden administration will also have to improve its messaging. Right now, it’s contending with strong messaging from the Republican side that there is a “crisis” at the southern border that began once President Biden took office. Trump’s upcoming visit to the border with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will reinforce that narrative. Pineda says Harris will have to offer something more concrete than “do not come,” which was her message to would-be migrants and asylum-seekers during her recent visit to Guatemala.
“[The Biden administration] has been caught flat-footed on immigration,” Pineda said. “Republicans are doing a better job framing this as a crisis.”
Still, Pineda says greater attention to the border region is necessary to fixing problems with the system. And he says the Biden administration could look to El Paso for possible solutions.
“Having Harris here, regardless of what prompted it or how she’s treating the visit, is significant because it means that the issue is front and center,” he said. “And I think that there are a lot of important stories about immigration in this community that work, and that also point to a need to have an efficient shift in the way that we deal with immigration policy.”