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Kamala Harris speaks at the National Palace in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Photo: Daniele Volpe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Vice President Kamala Harris defended her decision to not personally visit the U.S.-Mexico border during an interview with NBC News that aired Tuesday, arguing that her focus is on addressing the underlying causes of migration.

Why it matters: President Biden has put Harris in charge of solving the migrant surge at the southern border, a crisis that has threatened to overshadow some of the administration's early successes.

  • The number of migrants illegally crossing the border this fiscal year is already the most since 2006 — with four months left to go, according to preliminary Customs and Border Protection data obtained by Axios.
  • Republicans have repeatedly criticized Harris for not visiting the border, accusing her of ignoring the crisis. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who represents a border district, has also encouraged Biden and Harris to visit.

Driving the news: The interview took place in Guatemala during the first stop on Harris' first foreign trip as vice president, where she said at a news conference Tuesday, "I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come. Do not come."

  • Harris' trip to Guatemala and Mexico is intended to strengthen diplomatic ties with Latin America and identify "the reason people are arriving at our border" in order to address the root causes of the surge.
  • The policies the Biden administration is pursuing are not a "quick fix" and will take time to yield results, Harris acknowledged, though she insisted the payoff would be worth it.

What they're saying: "At some point, you know, we are going to the border. We've been to the border," Harris said when asked if she has plans to visit. "So this whole thing about the border. We've been to the border," she repeated, referring to other top administration officials.

  • Pressed on why she hasn't personally visited, Harris responded: "And I haven't been to Europe. And I mean, I don't understand the point that you're making. I'm not discounting the importance of the border."
  • "I'm in Guatemala because my focus is dealing with the root causes of migration," she continued. "There may be some who think that that is not important, but it is my firm belief that if we care about what's happening at the border, we better care about the root causes and address them. And so that's what I'm doing.”

Go deeper

Scoop: Illegal border crossings most in over decade — with four months to go

Migrants attempting to cross from Mexico are detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Photo: Nick Ut/Getty Images

The number of migrants illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border this fiscal year is already the most since 2006 — with four months left to go, according to preliminary Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The numbers quantify a lingering problem. Nearly 900,000 migrants were stopped by the Border Patrol from Oct. 1 to May 31. There also were more than 170,000 apprehensions last month — in line with 20-year records set in March and April.

U.S. unveils human trafficking task force as Harris visits Guatemala

Kamala Harris speaks during a joint press conference with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on June 7. Photo: Johan Ordonez/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. will create a "smuggling and human trafficking task force" to crack down on human smuggling in Central America, the Biden administration said Monday as Vice President Harris visited Guatemala.

Why it matters: Harris discussed the task force on her first foreign trip as vice president. The trip is part of the administration's efforts to shore up diplomatic ties with Latin America and continue to address the surge of migration into the U.S. from the Southern border.

Updated Jun 7, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Kamala Harris arrives in Guatemala for first foreign trip as VP

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris meeting with Foreign Minister of Guatemala Pedro Brolo after her arrival at the La Aurora airport in Guatemala City, Guatemala, on Sunday. Photo: Josue Decavele/Getty Images

Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in Guatemala Sunday, after a technical issue forced her first plane to return to Joint Base Andrews some 30 minutes into her first international trip since taking office, per White House pool reports.

Why it matters: Harris is touring Guatemala and Mexico as part of the Biden administration's efforts to address the surge of migration into the U.S. from the Southern border.