Kamala Harris criticises Texas governor for going ‘straight to politics’ after 53 migrants die in San Antonio

The Vice-President said in an NPR interview that the ‘broken’ immigration system ‘was decimated’ by the Trump administration

Johanna Chisholm
Wednesday 29 June 2022 19:00 BST
San Antonio fire chief describes 'stacks of bodies' in trailer after 46 found dead

​​Vice President Kamala Harris pushed back against Texas Gov Greg Abbott’s claims that the ongoing border crisis and, by extension, the 53 migrants who were found dead inside a tractor-trailer outside San Antonio this week was the Biden administration’s fault.

During an interview with NPR on Wednesday, the Democrat fielded questions from co-host Asma Khalid about the overturning of Roe v Wade before the pair turned to discussing matters south of the border.

“I’m sure you saw that, last night, there were at least 50 migrants who died in a tractor trailer in San Antonio, Texas,” Ms Khalid began. “I wanted to get a sense from you of – are there any new plans that you have for tackling the issue through administrative powers – through executive actions - that you all think you can’t do?”

Late Monday night, within hours of the news arriving that dozens of people were found trapped inside a sweltering trailer without signs of water or air conditioning to combat against the triple-digit-degree temperatures inside, the governor of Texas tweeted that the blame for the incident lay at the Biden administration’s feet.

“These deaths are on Biden,” the Republican, who is facing reelection this fall, tweeted. “They are a result of his deadly open border policies. They show the deadly consequences of his refusal to enforce the law.”

Ms Harris began her response by taking a different course than the governor’s. She first offered her condolences for the people who “it seems, by what we know so far, were trying to find a better life” before she pushed back against the Texas governor’s critiques of the administration.

“I think that your raising the point about how the governor of that state responded really highlights part of the problem because his response, where there are 50 dead bodies in his state, is to go straight to politics instead of dealing with the realities of the issue,” Ms Harris said.

“The realities of the issue include what we need to do on the issue of smuggling, for example,” the vice-president pointed out, adding that the Biden administration “has been taking that quite seriously”.

On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden similarly addressed the “tragic loss of life” as “horrifying and heartbreaking."

“Exploiting vulnerable individuals for profit is shameful, as is political grandstanding around tragedy, and my administration will continue to do everything possible to stop human smugglers and traffickers from taking advantage of people who are seeking to enter the United States between ports of entry,” the US president said in a statement after arriving in Spain in his second stop during a visit to the European continent.

Ms Harris also accused the Trump administration of handing down a “broken immigration system”, marking a sharp departure from the president’s own critique as he only vaguely rebuked politicians for “political grandstanding around tragedy”.

“But we also need to take seriously the fact that we have a broken immigration system that was decimated by the last administration, and we’ve been trying to - and we are on the path doing it - to fix that broken system,” she said.

Mr Abbott, who was scheduled to appear at the state’s southern border on Wednesday to deliver what his office says an address on the “ongoing response to President Biden’s growing border crisis”, has courted controversy in the past when it comes to his government’s response to the southern border crisis.

In April, the Republican governor faced harsh criticism after he bused migrants to Washington DC in an effort to draw attention to the Biden administration’s policies on the southern border. And back in 2017, the governor introduced a controversial “Sanctuary Cities” bill, SB4, which compels law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal agencies – such as ICE – and to check the immigration status of people during their routine work.

That law is what later gave Attorney General Ken Paxton the legal grounding to sue the San Antonio Police Department – the same law enforcement agency who were among the first responders to handle Monday’s tragedy – after the force reportedly turned a group of undocumented migrants over to a victim’s organisation instead of reporting them to ICE in 2018.

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