Kamala Harris laughs at Mexico border question as kids crammed at facilities

Vice President Kamala Harris laughed when she was asked on Monday if she has plans to visit the border as pictures show groups of migrant children living in overcrowded pens.

“Not today,” Ms Harris responded to the question before bursting out into laughter outside of air force One. “But I have before, and I’m sure I will again.”

The former California senator offered the response during a Monday visit to Jacksonville, Florida, to promote the passage of the $US1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, known as the America Rescue Plan.

Video of the exchange quickly spread to social media, eliciting the ire of Republicans who blasted Ms Harris for not treating the border situation with the seriousness it deserves.

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“While VP Harris laughs off a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions, Republicans are focused on securing the border and responding to the needs of our Border Patrol agents on the front lines,” House Minority Leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy wrote on Twitter.

Similarly, Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko added: “First, the Biden Administration refused to admit the situation at the border is a crisis, NOW Kamala Harris thinks this is a laughing matter.

“It isn’t a laughing matter for the border communities being deluged by illegal immigrants.”

Having previously stated he had no plans to visit the crossing, President Joe Biden, meanwhile, said on Sunday that he will make the trip “at some point” when pressed on the matter.

Just two months into his presidential term, Mr Biden is facing intense scrutiny for his administration’s response to the mounting crisis at the US-Mexico border.

Several thousands migrants, many of whom are unaccompanied children, have been flocking to the border since Biden’s inauguration in quantities not seen in over two decades.

Shocking images released on Monday by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) revealed what he described as “terrible” conditions inside a temporary overflow facility in Donna, Texas.

The pictures showed groups of migrants crammed together in small “pods” and penned in by plastic sheeting.

The Biden administration has prohibited media coverage in and around the facilities, but amid mounting scrutiny, the White House released its first official images from inside two Texas detention centres, including Donna.

The government-sanctioned footage and photos, shot last week and released by CBP on Tuesday, depicts a crowded but orderly facility in Donna, with children sleeping shoulder-to-shoulder on mats on the floor.

The video also shows shelves from inside the facility stocked with items including, diapers, water, hand sanitiser and food.

In another scene, a line of unaccompanied children are seen wearing face masks as they wait to get their temperatures checked.

The four-minute clip also showcases an outdoor recreational area without children, where they are supposed to be permitted to go outside at least twice a day.

Last week, around the same time the video was shot, lawyers for some of the children detained told ABC the kids were only allowed to go outside in the courtyard for around 20 minutes, every few days.

A three-minute video from an El Paso CBP holding facility depicts similar scenes, though appears less crowded.

Children are seen laughing and playing outdoors in one brief clip.

In a statement accompanying the photos, the CBP said it was working to “balance the need for public transparency and accountability”.

“CBP continues to transfer unaccompanied minors to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as quickly and efficiently as possible after they are apprehended on the Southwest Border,” the statement read.

“In order to protect the health and safety of our workforce and those in our care we continue to discourage external visitors in our facilities; however, CBP is working to balance the need for public transparency and accountability.”

The agency continued: “Still imagery and video are now available of the Donna Processing Center in Donna, Texas, and the Central Processing Center in El Paso, Texas.”

CBP released the footage less than 24 hours after Mr Cuellar unveiled secretly taken photos at the crowded Donna facility.

The Democrat told Axios that as of Sunday, at least one pod was holding more than 400 unaccompanied male minors.

Mr Cuellar described the setting as “terrible conditions for the children” and said they need to quickly be moved into the care of the Department of Health and Human Services.

While Mr Cueller believes border agents are “doing the best they can” with the government’s long-term child shelters and family detention centres full, the Democrat said the temporary tents are not “equipped to care for kids”.

Urging the Biden administration to step in and help, Mr Cuellar said: “We have to stop kids and families from making the dangerous trek across Mexico to come to the United States.

“We have to work with Mexico and Central American countries to have them apply for asylum in their countries.”

CBP Facilities are currently at capacity under coronavirus protocol, and the Rio Grande Valley sector, which includes Donna, has even far exceeded its non-pandemic limits.

As of Saturday, a total of 10,000 migrants were in CBP custody, nearly half of whom were unaccompanied minors.

Of those children, 823 have been held at facilities for more than 10 days, a more than fourfold increase on the week prior, and 2226 have been held for more than five.

This comes despite the CBP having a three-day limit for detaining children.

Many of those being held have allegedly been prohibited from phoning their parents or any other relatives who may be wondering where they are, reports say.

This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission

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