WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden has put Vice-President Kamala Harris in charge of leading the diplomatic effort to address the root causes of migration from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras and to stem the recent surge of immigrants to America's southern border.
It is the first major foreign policy issue to be assigned to Harris, and it comes as the White House grapples with a growing number of migrants from the Central American countries at the southern border, including thousands of minors arriving without adult family members.
Announcing his decision on Wednesday, Biden said nobody is better qualified than Harris, who ran the second-largest attorney general's office in America, to deal with the migration issue.
In 2010, Harris was elected California's Attorney General and oversaw the largest state justice department in the United States.
Harris, 56, is the first female US vice president as well as the first African American and first Asian American vice president.
The task mimics Biden's own efforts in 2014 and 2015, when he was tapped by then-President Barack Obama to lead diplomatic efforts in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador after a surge of unaccompanied minors from those countries began arriving in the US.
"This new surge (of migrants) we are dealing with now started with the last administration but it is our responsibility to deal with it humanely and to stop (it from) happening and so this increase has been consequential," Biden told reporters at the White House.
"The vice president has agreed...to lead our diplomatic effort and work with those nations to accept the returnees and enhance migration enforcement at their borders and we are already talking with Mexico about that," he said.
When he took office two months ago, Biden, a Democrat, stopped further construction of the border wall championed by his Republican predecessor Donald Trump and embraced what he said would be a more humane treatment of migrants.
Many migrants have viewed Biden's policy shift as an invitation to make the journey on the assumption that if they make it past the US-Mexico border, they will be allowed to stay in America.
In an interaction with reporters before his meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on the migrants issue, Biden said his administration is going to be dealing with a full team.
"I (can) think of nobody who is better qualified to do this than...this is a woman who ran the second-largest attorney general's office in America after the United States attorney general in the State of California," he said about Harris.
"Thank you, Mr.President, for having the confidence in me. There is no question that this is a challenging situation," Harris said.
Harris said there are many factors that lead residents to leave these countries in Central America.
"While we are clear that people should not come to the border now. We also understand that we will enforce the law...," she said.
Harris stressed addressing "the root causes that cause people to make the trek, as the president has described, to come here".
"I look forward to engaging in diplomacy with government, with the private sector, with civil society and the leaders of each in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to strengthen democracy and the rule of law and ensure shared prosperity in the region.
"We will collaborate with Mexico and other countries throughout the Western Hemisphere and as part of this effort, we expect that we will have collaborative relationships to accomplish the goals the president has and that we share," she said.
According to the White House, the vice president's leadership on this issue will focus both on the goal of stemming the flow of irregular migrants to the United States and on the establishment of a longer-term strategic partnership with these countries based on respect and shared values.
"We need to deal with what's happening in the Northern Triangle and address it in a way that is about not only diplomacy, but bringing our allies together," Harris said.
The vice president will oversee diplomatic efforts and work with these nations to accept returnees and enhance migration enforcement on their borders, implement the strategy to address the root causes of migration and work to create economic prosperity, fight corruption, improve good governance and strengthen the rule of law.
In addition, Harris will work closely with various Cabinet members, including the Secretary of State and the Administrator for International Development, as well as the Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle.
She will also engage with civil society, international organisations and governments in the region to build, strengthen, and expand Central and North American countries' asylum systems and resettlement capacity and increase opportunities for vulnerable populations to apply for protection closer to home.
Meanwhile, the Department of Defence approved a request for assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to temporarily house unaccompanied migrant children at a vacant dormitory at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland, Texas and an area of land on Fort Bliss, Texas to construct a suitable temporary housing facility.