HHS Secretary gives update ahead of Vice President Harris’ visit to El Paso

Washington D.C.

FILE – In this Dec. 4, 2019, file photo, then California Attorney General Xavier Becerra speaks during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif. President Joe Biden’s pick for health secretary is facing two days of contentious Senate hearings. Republicans are portraying the Californian as unfit. But Democrats are unfazed, accusing the GOP of playing politics despite the pandemic. California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, will be grilled by two panels beginning Tuesday. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — All eyes are on El Paso as Vice President Kamala Harris prepares to visit the Borderland to address the immigration crisis firsthand.

KTSM 9 News had a one-on-one with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra and a former Republican National Committee (RNC) spokesperson about what Harris’ visit to El Paso means for the Biden administration’s immigration goals.

“Our job has been to find a safe place — a healthy place — for several thousand of these unaccompanied minor children that have come across the border. And we’re doing that as best we can,” Becerra said. “And so far, we’ve been able to help CBP avoid the thousands of kids that you used to see a few months ago being detained in these adult detention facilities.”

HHS has been working with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to care for unaccompanied migrant children that enter the country through El Paso.

“The fact that we’ve been able to help CBP move these children to a better setting with us is a testament to the work that’s been done by the women and men at HHS and throughout the federal government to try to help us,” he said.

Harris’ visit is significant when it comes to combating the immigration crisis because El Paso was ground zero for the previous administration’s immigration policies that included family separations. 

But the GOP remains unsatisfied with the Biden administration’s approach.

“I think it’s a good thing. It’s important that she gets down there, but unfortunately, it’s the wrong part of the border,” Cassie Smedile, executive director of America Rising and former RNC spokesperson, told KTSM 9 News.

The GOP has been critical of the Biden-Harris vision for immigration and said border security issues in the Rio Grande Valley ought to first be addressed by Harris.

“Hats off to the people of El Paso for having a good system and having a compassionate system, but if you want to get to the root of this issue, you have to go to where this crisis is raging,” Smedile said.

President Joe Biden sent his immigration bill to Congress in January that seeks to establish a new immigration system anchored on managing and securing the border, keeping families and communities safe and more effectively managing migration. 

“This is an all-hands-on-deck effort by the Biden administration to deal with this,” Becerra said. “And I think that both President Biden and Vice President Harris are making every effort possible to address these challenges we face on immigration, given that the immigration system is clearly broken.”

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