Vice-President Kamala Harris is under pressure to visit the US-Mexico border as she targets illegal immigration on her first official foreign trip.
Ms Harris had a testy exchange with a cable anchor who asked why she had not gone to the US’ southern boundary.
Members of her own Democratic party meanwhile assailed Ms Harris for advising against illegal immigration.
Some 178,000 undocumented migrants arrived at the border this April, the highest total in more than two decades.
The vice-president’s staff initially said the border was part of Ms Harris’ portfolio when US President Joe Biden assigned her in March to stem migration from Latin America. But the aides have recently been seeking to distance her from the politically toxic crisis.
Asked in an interview with NBC News aired on Tuesday morning whether she had any plans to visit the border, Ms Harris threw her arms up as she responded: “At some point. You know… we are going to the border. We have been to the border.”
When the host pointed out that she had not herself visited the region, she deflected the question with a laugh, saying: “And I haven’t been to Europe. I don’t understand the point you’re making.”
Ms Harris again brushed off questions about why she had not gone to the border as she spoke to reporters on Tuesday in Mexico.
“It would be very easy to say,” she said, “we’ll travel to one place and therefore it’s solved. I don’t think anybody thinks that that would be the solution.”
Pressed again on why she would not visit the border, Ms Harris said she had done when she was a senator for California.
On Monday she visited Guatemala, where she had a message for undocumented migrants: “Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our borders.”
She added: “If you come to our border, you will be turned back.”
Her remarks rankled left-wing members of her own party.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York City congresswoman, called the remark “disappointing”.
“First, seeking asylum at any US border is a 100% legal method of arrival,” the influential New York congresswoman tweeted.
“Second, the US spent decades contributing to regime change and destabilisation in Latin America. We can’t help set someone’s house on fire and then blame them for fleeing.”
Fellow members of her ultraliberal group known as the Squad, also criticised Ms Harris, who is herself the daughter migrants – an Indian-born mother and a Jamaican-born father.
“The right to seek asylum is not just legally protected. It is a foundational universal human right,” tweeted Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who was born in Somalia.
Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib also hit out at Ms Harris, writing: “This whole ‘stay there and die’ approach is not how our country will promote a more humane and just immigration system.”