Republicans eyeing Harris’s record as ‘border czar’ should she replace Biden

Republicans eyeing Harris’s record as ‘border czar’ should she replace Biden

Vice President Kamala Harris’s record on the southern border has Republicans welcoming the possibility that she could replace President Joe Biden as the 2024 Democratic nominee.

As Democrats have been in disarray over concerns about Biden’s mental acuity, some Republicans are embracing the idea that Harris could become the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer, as they view Harris as extremely vulnerable on immigration given her “failures” as Biden’s “border czar.”

Harris’s work on border security is likely to be used as a cudgel against her, with some Republicans believing that reminding voters of Harris’s record as border czar is a smart strategy. 

Jason Miller, senior adviser to presumptive Republican candidate former President Donald Trump, said in a statement to the Washington Examiner that Democrats were in a “no-win situation” with the possibility of a Harris takeover.

“Kamala Harris owns all of Joe Biden’s incompetence and failure, plus Harris adds radical leftist ideology. While Biden kowtows to California liberals, Harris actually is one and will have her own record to defend on the border and more,” Miller said in a statement.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), whose state has been heavily affected by the border crisis, said Harris has a bull’s-eye on her.

“She’s going to be tagged with all the failed policies under the Biden administration that she was a part of, principally the failures at the border. She was appointed border czar and obviously has been missing in action ever since,” Cornyn, who is vying to become the next Senate GOP leader, told the Washington Examiner on Monday.

A spokesperson for the Biden-Harris reelection campaign maintained that Harris was not replacing Biden and that her record was strong.

“Vice President Harris is proud to be President Biden’s running mate,” Rhyan Lake, Harris’s deputy communication director at Biden for President, said. “No matter what false attacks Trump and his extreme allies make, she will continue to defend the Biden-Harris record and prosecute the case against Donald Trump.”

Emily Benavides, a GOP strategist who has advised on border messaging for more than a decade, including most recently for GOP vice presidential candidate Gov. Doug Burgum’s (R-ND) super PAC, Best of America, believes Republicans would be smart to focus their messaging efforts on Harris’s work.

“If Kamala becomes the nominee, Republicans should reiterate the litany of crises that have resulted from the Biden-Harris policy of inaction from vulnerable unaccompanied children and emboldened drug cartels to our enemies sending in rogue actors,” Benavides, who was also a spokeswoman for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said.

She continued, “Americans want a safe and secure country, and we should not hesitate in reinforcing the fact that Kamala laughs at that idea.”

Harris’s role as ‘border czar’

Migration to the southern border spiked in 2021 during the pandemic and after the Biden administration eased immigration policies. Since then, more than 9 million people have traversed to the United States and been encountered by federal law enforcement, according to federal data.

Biden had appointed former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson as border czar in January 2021. Biden called in February 2021 for the creation and implementation of a strategy to address the root causes of people leaving their home countries.

Jacobson unexpectedly left her post in April, and the post has been vacant since then.

Biden tasked Harris that spring with handling Central American migration issues, though not specifically serving as a border czar.

Under Harris, the White House commenced a root causes strategy to resolve the reasons migrants were fleeing El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. It called for improving economic conditions, addressing corruption within governments, bolstering human rights, countering gangs and cartels, and combating domestic violence.

Conflicting results

The Migration Policy Institute’s Ariel Ruiz Soto said Harris’s efforts early on “backfired” for the White House.

“There was a point when she went to Guatemala and she had a big speech that said, ‘Our borders are closed. Do not come.’ That really backfired on her and the administration early on,” Ruiz Soto, senior policy analyst at the global migration research group, said. “Afterwards, it became more of her strategy, or her political strategy at least, was to try to find and shape government assistance or government collaboration with Guatemala, in particular.”

Separately, Harris also raised $5.2 billion in financial commitments for investments in the three countries. The nongovernmental investments were meant to boost the economy, provide jobs, and give citizens in the region a reason not to feel like they must migrate elsewhere.

One of the investments included clothing company Gap, which said it would increase its sourcing of materials from Central America to $50 million per year with an intention to surpass $150 million by 2025.

Republicans were flippant over the investments. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mark Green (R-TN) told the Washington Examiner in March that the root-causes approach was “just meant to make unserious people sound like they’re trying to do something meaningful to end this crisis.”

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) said in late 2021 that he had lost hope in Harris.

“I’ve moved on from the vice president to say, ‘OK, let’s work with the ambassadors and let’s work with the State Department. Let’s work with the homeland secretary,’” Cuellar said. “I don’t think she’s — with all due respect — put the effort in there.”

Still, Ruiz Soto suggested that the border crisis was not part of her responsibility and that outside circumstances impacting illegal immigration levels have gone unresolved.

“Her role was never really the border,” Ruiz Soto said during a phone call. “It’s really more about her focus on reducing irregular migration through development, less on the border.”

Harris has focused more of her messaging in recent years on immigration issues inside the U.S.

“She’s done a lot more about trying to create access to services for immigrants in the U.S. She’s talked a lot about healthcare as well for immigrants and integration efforts,” Ruiz Soto said.

A major challenge for the Biden administration is that its focus on Central America ignores a new phenomenon that has unfolded since 2021. Before 2007, Mexicans made up 90% of all illegal immigrant arrests.

“Since 2022, it has really become less Central American and more South American and increasingly more global,” Ruiz Soto said. “We have seen a decrease in general Central American migration for some groups; migration from other parts of the world has increased and increased significantly — Venezuelans, Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans.”

In fiscal 2024, more than 62% of all illegal immigrants arrested have been from countries other than the four.


Initial numbers from 2021, 2022, 2023, and 2024 showed that illegal immigration from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras was down, but Ruiz Soto said certain demographics were not seeing declines and that the root causes approach had in no way gotten at the root causes for global migration.

In February 2023, Harris touted that the initiative was having a “positive impact” in reducing the flow of immigrants from the region. However, illegal crossings at the border surged to new highs later that year as illegal immigration from other parts of the world soared and went unaddressed through her Central America-focused efforts.

David Sivak contributed to this report.

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