US Vice President Kamala Harris dismissed continued criticism from her Republican detractors on Friday on her first trip to the US-Mexico border since taking office.
The trip comes just days before former President Donald Trump also travels to the border region, where he be joined by Governor Greg Abbott and a group of Republican members of Congress.
Harris has increasingly come under fire from politicians - Democrats and Republicans alike - urging her to travel to the border to see the situation first-hand.
Speaking to reporters on a conference call just ahead of Friday's visit, however, Symone Sanders, a senior Advisor and chief spokesperson for the vice president, said that the scheduling of the trip was not a result of any political pressure, or because of Trump's announcement.
"This administration does not take their cues from Republican criticism, nor from the former President," Sanders said. "This trip....will inform the root causes strategy that the administration will release in the coming weeks."
At the border at El Paso, Harris said the situation was "tough" and will require more work.
"I'm glad to be here. It was always the plan to come here," Harris told reporters, adding that the visit is about "looking at the effects of what we have seen happening in Central America."
During the visit, Harris met with a number of young girls - all between the ages of 9 and 16 - who are currently being held in a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center.
"The stories that I heard today reinforce the nature of those root causes," Harris said. "It is going to require...a comprehensive approach that acknowledges each piece of this."
Additionally, Harris met with a number of faith-based organizations, shelter and legal service providers.
During the meeting, Harris said that the Biden administration had "inherited a tough situation" at the border. "In five months, we've made progress," she said. "There's still more work to be done, but we've made progress."
Even as the visit to the border was ongoing, Harris' detractors and many Republicans continued to criticize her handling of the border crisis. Some said they believed her choice of visiting the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez stretch of border was not reflective of the way in which the migrant crisis has impacted many US communities along the border.
"While it's certainly positive that she is taking this step, I am disappointed that she is not going to the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) - the very epicenter of this crisis," Chad Wolf, the acting Homeland Security Secretary under Trump said in a statement. "Instead, she is going to El Paso, a metropolitan area 800-1,000 miles away from the RGV."
"Hopefully, Harris' trip will be a working visit, not just border security tourism," Wolf's statement added.
Mark Morgan, the former acting commissioner of CBP, said in a statement that Harris "has done everything she can to distance herself from the crisis, hiding behind terms like âroot causes' to escape scrutiny and criticism."
"It's sad that it took former President Donald Trump's announcing a visit to the border himself - presenting the Biden administration with an optics nightmare - to finally force Harris to visit the border," Morgan said.
"We know this trip is nothing more than a political stunt, rather than a substantive action designed to solicit honest and open feedback from Border Patrol agents who are dealing with the crisis Harris and her chief architect, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, have created," Morgan added.
Morgan concluded his statement by saying that "This visit is an effort to impact optics and get a few good photo-ops, rather than drive any meaningful policies addressing the national security crisis at our border -- a crisis jeopardizing every town, city, and state in our great nation."
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