EL PASO, Texas (AP) — President Joe Biden drove through a muddy stretch of US-Mexico border and inspected a busy port of entry on Sunday on his first trip to the region after two years in office, a visit overshadowed by busy immigration policy as Republicans accuse him of record number of migrants crossing into the country.
At his first stop, the president watched as border agents entered step showed how they look for vehicles medicines, money and other contraband. He then travels to a dusty street of abandoned buildings and walks past a metal border fence that separates the American city from Ciudad Juarez.
His last stop was the El Paso County Migrant Services Center, but there were no migrants in sight. When he learned about the services offered there, he asked humanitarian aid: “If I could wave a wand, what should I do?”
Biden’s nearly four-hour visit to El Paso was tightly controlled. He encountered no migrants except when his motorcade passed the border and about a dozen lined up on the Ciudad Juarez side. His visit did not include time at a border patrol station, where migrants who cross illegally are arrested and held before being released.
The visit appeared designed to demonstrate a smooth operation to process legal migrants, crack down on smuggling and humanely treat those who entered illegally, creating a counter-narrative to Republican claims of a crisis situation equivalent to an open border.
But his visit likely would do little to quell critics on both sides, including immigrant advocates who accuse him of instituting harsh policies like those of his hardline predecessor, Donald Trump.
In a sign of deep tensions over immigration, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, handed Biden a letter as soon as he arrived in the state saying the “chaos” at the border was a “direct result” of the president’s failure to follow federal laws. Biden later pulled the letter from his jacket pocket during his tour, telling reporters, “I haven’t read it yet.”
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy dismissed Biden’s visit as a “snapshot,” saying on Twitter that the Republican majority would hold the administration “responsible for creating the most dangerous border crisis in American history.”
El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego welcomed Biden’s visit, but said the current lull in arrivals prevented the president from seeing how large the group of newcomers was.
“He failed to see the real difficulties,” said Samaniego, who was in the local delegation that welcomed Biden. “It was good to be here. This is a first step. But we still need to do more and have more time with him.
Elsewhere in El Paso, where Biden has not visited, hundreds of migrants gathered Sunday outside the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where they sleep outdoors and receive three meals a day from religious groups and other humanitarian organizations.
The migrants included several pregnant women, including Karla Sainz, 26 years, eight months. She was traveling in a small group that included her 2-year-old son Joshua. Sainz left his three other children at home in Venezuela with his mother.
“I would ask President Biden to help me with a permit or something so that we can work and continue,” she said.
Juan Tovar, 32, one of several people in her group, suggested that he too had political reasons for leaving his home country.
“Socialism is the worst,” he said. “In Venezuela they kill us, torture us, we cannot speak ill of the government. We are worse than in Cuba.
Noengris Garcia, also eight months pregnant, was traveling with her husband, teenage son and the small family dog from the tiny state of Portuguesa, Venezuela, where she ran a food stand.
“We don’t want to be given money or a house,” said Garcia, 39. “We just want to work.”
Asked what he learned from seeing the border firsthand and talking to officials working on it, Biden said: “They need a lot of resources. We will take it from them.”
It’s currently El Paso the largest corridor for illegal crossing, largely due to Nicaraguans fleeing repression, crime and poverty in their country. They are among the migrants from four countries now subject to expedited expulsion new rules put in place by the Biden administration over the past week, drawing strong criticism from immigration advocates.
Biden’s recent policy announcements on border security and his visit to the border have been aimed in part at blunting the impact of upcoming immigration investigations promised by House Republicans. But any lasting solution will require action from a sharply divided Congress, where numerous efforts to enact sweeping changes have failed in recent years.
From Texas, Biden headed south to Mexico City, where he and the leaders of Mexico and Canada will meet on Monday and Tuesday for the North American Leaders Summit. Immigration is among the items on the agenda.
The number of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border rose dramatically during Biden’s first two years in office. There were more than 2.38 million suspensions in the year ended Sept. 30, the first time the number topped 2 million. The administration has struggled to limit the crossings, reluctant to take measures that would resemble those of the Trump administration.
The policy changes, announced last week, are Biden’s biggest move to date to curb illegal border crossings and will deter tens of thousands of migrants arriving at the border. At the same time, 30,000 migrants a month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela will be given the chance to come legally to the US as long as they travel by plane, get a sponsor and pass background checks.
The U.S. will also turn away migrants who don’t seek asylum first in a country they traveled through on their way to the U.S. Migrants are asked to fill out a form on a phone app so they can go to a port of entry in advance – a scheduled date and time.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters aboard Air Force One that the administration was trying to “incentivize a safe and orderly way and cut down on smuggling organizations,” saying the policies were “not a ban at all” but an attempt to protect migrants from the trauma that smuggling can create.
The changes were welcomed by some, especially leaders in cities where migrants flock in droves. But Biden has been rebuked by immigrant advocacy groups, who have accused him of taking measures modeled after those of the former president. Administration officials disputed that characterization.
For all his international travel during his 50 years in public service, Biden hasn’t spent much time at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The only visit the White House could point to was Biden’s drive along the border while campaigning for president in 2008. He sent Vice President Kamala Harris in El Paso in 2021but she was criticized for largely bypassing the action, since El Paso was not the crossroads hub it is now.
Trump, who has made a crackdown on immigration a signature issue, has traveled to the border several times.
Associated Press writers Andres Leighton in El Paso, Texas; Anita Snow in Phoenix; Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Josh Boak in Washington contributed to this report.
#Biden #inspects #USMexico #border #facing #criticism #Republican #Party