Vice President Kamala Harris‘s decision to visit the border city of El Paso, Texas, on Friday will keep her 800 miles away from the region that is seeing more than double the normal amount of illegal immigration.
Lawmakers who have begged Harris for months to visit the U.S.-Mexico border are unhappy about the White House’s plans not to visit the Rio Grande Valley. Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas called the move a “politically safe trip.”
“I’m sure her planners told her that if you’re going to go down to the border, go to something that’s safer to go to, that is, politically safer,” Cuellar told Fox News in an interview Thursday morning. “The epicenter is down there in the Lower Rio Grande, the lower part of my district down there. If you look at the numbers that are down there compared to El Paso, you’re not going to get a true picture of what’s happening.”
The Border Patrol divides the 1,950-mile border into nine regions. Since the start of the government’s fiscal year in October 2020, the Rio Grande Valley has seen the most illegal immigration, nearly two and a half times as many migrant encounters as the El Paso region. From October through May, Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley apprehended 271,927 people, compared to 113,824 in El Paso, according to federal data.
The Laredo and Del Rio regions of southeastern and central Texas have also seen extremely high illegal immigration levels, together totaling 194,000. Agents there see higher percentages of criminal immigrants and adults as opposed to the Rio Grande Valley, where many families and children cross.
Cuellar said if Harris went to southeastern Texas, she would see children and families being detained in tents in Donna, Texas; people being released due to prosecutorial discretion onto the streets in downtown McAllen, Texas; and constant crossings at the Rio Grande River that divides both countries.
The congressman has invited Harris to the border several times, including in an invitation sent to her office last week. He never heard back and learned of her plan to visit El Paso through news reports, as did other Texas Democrats, he said.
“Yesterday, I got a call from one of my Border Patrol friends and say, ‘Hey, why is she going over there? We got about 140% higher crossings over here, and this is where the activity’s at.’ And I couldn’t answer him,” Cuellar said. “Even if she goes to El Paso, which is a first step, she’s got to spend time with landowners, with stakeholders, with cities and counties officials, and I hope she sits down with our brave men and women in green, and in blue, our Border Patrol agents, so they don’t just get a pat in the back, but they actually get some reinforcement and some support down there.”
The Rio Grande Valley is the southernmost tip of the southern border, making it the shortest distance from Mexico’s southern border and the quickest spot to enter the United States for Central Americans, who make up the majority of people arriving at the border under President Joe Biden.