MCALLEN, Texas – U.S. Sen. John Cornyn did not see any value in Vice President Kamala Harris visiting Guatemala to stop the surge in migrants coming up from Central America.
Instead, Texas’ senior senator wanted Harris to visit the Texas-Mexico border. He believes this is where the crisis really lies. Harris ignored Cornyn’s advice and went to Guatemala anyway. She later went to Mexico City to meet with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
A news release from Cornyn said he “lamented” the Vice President’s decision to visit Guatemala instead of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Cornyn said he was offering to meet with her and President Biden to discuss legislation he has filed called the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act.
“The only problem is she’s not visiting the border. She’s not even in her home state of California, which has a border with Mexico. She’s in Guatemala,” Cornyn said, from the U.S. Senate floor.
“Imagine calling 911 when your home is on fire and watching as they hose down your neighbor’s house instead. That’s what it feels like.”
Cornyn then poured scorn on Harris’ credentials.
“Former Senator Harris’ list of legislative accomplishments and her experience solving complex policy problems is not particularly deep, but rather than be critical, I’d like to offer a suggestion: In April, Senator Sinema, the Senator from Arizona, and I introduced the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act to address this unfettered flow of migration,” Cornyn said.
“I’d be happy to offer this legislation to Vice President Harris or President Biden as a solution to the crisis on our southern border. I’m happy to meet with them.”
Cornyn added that Vice President Biden was tapped to solve a previous migrant surge during President Obama’s term in office. “Not only was he unsuccessful, as we know it’s gotten worse since that time,” Cornyn said.
While in Guatemala, Harris made clear the U.S. government does not want migrants from that country making the dangerous trek to the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The goal of our work is to help Guatemalans find hope at home. At the same time I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border. Do not come. Do not come,” Harris said.
In an interview with Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, Harris responded to criticism that she, personally, had not visited the U.S. border. Holt noted that among those calling for Harris and/or President Biden to visit the border is U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from the border city of Laredo.
“I am not discounting the importance of the border,” Harris said. “Listen, I care about what is happening at the border. I am in Guatemala because my focus is dealing with the root causes of migration. There may be some who think that that is not important but it is my firm belief that if we care about what is happening at the border, we better care about the root causes and address them. And that is what I am doing.”
Political observers in the Rio Grande Valley say it is obvious why Harris is reluctant to visit the region. When she came here during the 2020 presidential election she was met with huge protests from TrumpTrain enthusiasts. They lined the route she was traveling from McAllen Airport to UT-Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, where she was giving a campaign speech. Indeed, as she looked out of the window she may have been forgiven for thinking, ‘hey, I thought you said this Valley was a Democratic stronghold.’ Now, with immigration issues to the fore, she can expect an even more hostile reception, with Republicans, as they did before, driving in from all over Texas.
Sabrina Rodriguez, immigration correspondent for Politico, was one of the reporters on the Guatemala/Mexico trip with Harris. Appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program, Rodriguez said:
“The Vice President has started her first foreign trip. Day One was in Guatemala. Today she will be in Mexico City, meeting the Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
“But in her first day of the trip, in Guatemala, meeting with the president, here, she really wanted to toe this line of saying, we are doing all these things to address root causes of migration. We are interested in helping improve the conditions in these countries. But aware of the political realities in the U.S. and aware of the tensions with Republicans.
“So, the message wasn’t only to Guatemalans. It was to Republicans in some sense, of saying, we are not telling people there is an open border, we are not sending the message that you should come now.
“We say, don’t come now but we are going to help improve the conditions here. It was kind of toeing that line of being blunt with the Guatemalans, being blunt about what the United States position is on people coming to the border, while also saying we do want to see things get better here.”
Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said Harris has a tough job trying to fix border security.
“She’s right when she says immigration policy cannot simply begin at the border. She’s right. On the other hand, it is not going to succeed if we only try to, quote, unquote, address the root causes. That is a 20-year proposition. You need it all. You need a full spectrum of responses,” Haass said, on Morning Joe.
“Politically, it is one of those radioactive issues, within her own party and between Republicans and Democrats. She has been put, I would argue, in something between a difficult and an impossible position. This is not an assignment, my sense is, that people were queuing up to get from President Biden.”
Meanwhile, some human rights activists have criticized Cornyn’s Bipartisan Border Solutions Act. They say the proposal would hurt refugees. The legislation was co-authored by U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, Rep. Cuellar, and U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, a Republican from San Antonio.
In a guest column in Roll Call, Eleanor Acer, senior director of the refugee protection program at Human Rights First, Karen Musalo, professor and chair in international law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, and director of its Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, and Laura St. John, legal director at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, wrote:
“The Bipartisan Border Solutions Act of 2021 has been framed by its authors as a way to address what they term an “influx” of migrants at the southern border. For any member of Congress who values the rights and lives of refugees, opposing this bill should be an easy decision.
“Rather than building a fair, humanitarian system for people fleeing persecution, the legislation, introduced in the Senate by Kyrsten Sinema and John Cornyn, and in the House by Henry Cuellar and Tony Gonzales would punish refugees for seeking protection and subvert due process.”
Acer, Musalo and St. John said the while the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act includes some positive provisions, it creates more problems than it solves.
“The bill proposes conducting rushed asylum officer interviews in just 72 hours — an absurd time frame for cases with life-and-death stakes,” they state.
“Arriving at the border, people seeking asylum are often detained, unrepresented, separated from loved ones, and physically and mentally exhausted from their journeys to the United States. As legal experts and services providers, we know all too well that asking someone in such dire circumstances to immediately present a coherent legal claim for asylum is unrealistic and unfair.”
The guest column stated: “Asking traumatized refugees to plead their case immediately after being taken into U.S. custody isn’t just irresponsible and immoral; it will turn these interviews into tools for denying refugees protection.”
Editor’s Note: Click here to read the Acer/Musalo/St. John guest column in Roll Call.
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