Talking Points

Harris is stuck with immigration

Vice President Kamala Harris is apparently nervous about what the immigration issue might mean for her political future. CNN reports that while Harris is in charge of working with Central American officials to curb migration from their countries, her staff is trying to make clear she is not in charge of America's southern border.

Too late. Like it or not, Harris — and her presidential prospects — are stuck with the immigration issue.

The pitfalls for Harris were clear back in March, when President Biden announced that she would oversee the administration's strategy for the so-called "Northern Triangle" countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Even before Donald Trump came along to demagogue immigration, his predecessors tried — and failed — to enact reforms in the face of opposition from immigration hawks. The politics of the issue are tricky, even impossible.

Indeed, Republicans have been eager to refer to Harris as the "immigration czar," a term the Biden administration has never used. Harris' response has been to minimize the breadth of her responsibility — yes, she is in charge of dealing with Central American nations that are the source of much migration, but no, her mandate doesn't include the border proper.

That approach may be technically correct, but it isn't very convincing. The whole point of Harris' mission, after all, is to help curb the northward flow of migrants. Fix that, and the border takes care of itself. During his March 24 announcement, Biden himself said the vice president would "lead our efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle and the countries that … are going to need help in stemming the movement of so many folks, stemming the migration to our southern border."

"You can't divorce the border from Mexico or Central America or the interior of the US," a former Homeland Security official told CNN. "It is all one system."

That's right. Semantic parsing won't help Harris in what was always going to be a challenging assignment. Her only real hope now is to be effective in her mission, and to take credit for the results. Otherwise, Republicans will make sure she gets the blame.