Vice President Kamala Harris met Friday with federal agents and unaccompanied migrant children at the southern US border as part of a trip to demonstrate the Biden administration's commitment to "orderly and humane" immigration policies.
The brief but closely-watched visit by President Joe Biden's deputy came in the wake of her mission this month to Central America and Mexico, where she addressed the root causes of the migration crisis that have led to a surge in undocumented people seeking entry to the United States.
Republican critics had hammered Harris, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, for failing to visit the US-Mexico border for an on-the-ground assessment, and then making comments that appeared to downplay the crisis.
The vice president's trip also comes just days before a visit to the border by Biden's predecessor Donald Trump, who has warned that the current administration's more humane approach to immigration was provoking rather than preventing a crisis.
"It was always the plan to come here," she told reporters after landing in El Paso, Texas.
Harris, whom Biden tasked with overseeing efforts to address the migration crisis, said she believed the White House policies were working.
"The president and I are absolutely committed to ensuring that our immigration system is orderly and humane, and I do believe that we are making progress in that regard," she said.
She also stressed that border issues must be addressed in a way that is "informed by fact and informed by reality," if they are to be resolved in a productive way.
Harris spoke with young migrant girls who were being processed at a Customs and Border Protection port of entry facility, then met with immigration advocates and CBP agents as she toured a processing center.
While her trip to Guatemala and Mexico was aimed at addressing the root causes of migration -- lack of economic opportunity, excessive violence and corruption, fear of drug cartels -- Harris said her border trip served to "reinforce" the need to address the nature of those causes or face a continued border crisis.
Harris said more could be accomplished if people "stopped the rhetoric" on the issue.
But in a remark that quickly earned rebukes from conservatives, Democratic congresswoman Veronica Escobar, who represents El Paso, stood next to Harris while comparing the southern border to what was once the busiest immigration point in the United States.
"Welcome to El Paso... to the new Ellis Island," Escobar said.