Tens of thousands migrants from Central America arrive at the US-Mexico border monthly. In April, of the 178,622 migrants encountered by US Customs and Border Protection, 79,190, or roughly 44%, were from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, according to the agency's data, the very countries where Vice President Kamala Harris is supposed to be addressing migration to the US.
The number of migrant encounters in April represented a slight increase over March for the highest one-month total in two decades, though fewer unaccompanied children arrived. According to Customs and Border Protection, 17,171 unaccompanied migrant children were encountered in April, down from nearly 19,000 in March.
While the number of arrests increased by 3% overall in April, the majority — more than 110,000 — were of single adults subject to quick expulsion to Mexico or their home countries under a Trump-era pandemic emergency rule.
The pandemic has taken a dramatic toll on Latin America, where Covid-19 cases and deaths soared and economies once projected to grow have been decimated. The region was also hit with two devastating hurricanes last year.
The decline in economic growth in 2020, according to the Congressional Research Service, is expected to worsen income inequality and poverty in the region. That, combined with pent-up demands and the perception of the Biden administration being more lenient, has fueled people trying to cross the US-Mexico border.
The Biden administration assigned roles early on to tackle migration, including Roberta S. Jacobson, who was appointed as a special assistant to the President and was a key official dealing with migrants at the US-Mexico border until stepping down in April.
The administration also assigned a Northern Triangle special envoy, a position held by Ricardo Zúñiga, who frequently travels to the region.
Harris' role — which mimics that of Biden under President Barack Obama — is intended to target what's driving people to the US.
Harris, thought to be a leading Democratic candidate for the 2024 presidential race should Biden not run for reelection, has not shied away from the tough assignment and is engaged and dedicated to her new role, sources told CNN.
But she and her staff appeared wary of becoming a scapegoat for Republicans for any and all problems at the southern border — a not-unfounded concern, especially after GOP lawmakers photoshopped her face onto a milk carton and accused her of being "missing" at the border.