WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden makes his way to the U.S.-Mexico border on Sunday, his first trip there as president after two years of persecution by Republicans who have hammered him soft on border security while the number of migrants spirals crossed.
Biden will spend a few hours in El Paso, Texas, currently the largest illegal crossing corridor, in large part as Nicaraguans flee oppression, crime and poverty in their country. They are among migrants from four countries now subject to swift deportation under new rules enacted by the Biden administration last week, which have been heavily criticized by immigration advocates.
The President is expected to meet with border officials to discuss migration and the growing trade in fentanyl and other synthetic opioids that are skyrocketing overdose rates in the US
Biden will visit the El Paso County Migrant Services Center and meet with nonprofit and religious groups that support migrants coming to the United States. It’s not clear if Biden will speak to migrants.
“The President is very much looking forward to seeing firsthand the security situation at the border,” said John Kirby, White House national security spokesman. “It’s something he wanted to see for himself.”
Biden’s border security announcement and visit to the border are designed in part to blunt political noise and soften the impact of upcoming immigration probes promised by House Republicans. But any lasting solution will require action from a sharply divided Congress, where several attempts at sweeping change have failed in recent years.
Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas weakly praised Biden’s decision to visit the border, and even that was noteworthy in the current political climate.
“He needs to take the time to learn from some of the experts I rely on most, including local officials and law enforcement, landowners, nonprofit organizations, US Customs and Border Protection officials and agents, and people who make a living.” in border communities earning on the front lines of its crisis,” Cornyn said.
From El Paso, Biden will travel further south to Mexico City, where he and leaders of Mexico and Canada will meet for a summit of North American leaders on Monday and Tuesday. Immigration is on the agenda.
The challenge facing the US on its southern border “is something that is not unique to the United States. It attacks the hemisphere. And a regional challenge requires a regional solution,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told ABC’s This Week before joining Biden on the trip.
In El Paso, where migrants congregate at bus stops and in parks before continuing their journey, border patrol officials have stepped up security ahead of Biden’s visit.
“I think they’re trying to send a message that they’re going to be more rigorous in checking people’s documented status, and if you haven’t been processed, they’re going to pick you up,” said Ruben Garcia of the Proclamation House El Passo relief group.
Migrants and asylum-seekers fleeing violence and persecution are increasingly finding that protection in the United States is primarily available to those who have money or who are smart enough to find someone to vouch for them financially.
Jose Natera, a Venezuelan migrant in El Paso who hopes to apply for asylum in Canada, said he has no prospects of finding a US sponsor and he is now reluctant to apply for asylum in the US because he is afraid to be sent to Mexico.
Mexico “is a horrible country where there is crime, corruption, cartels and you’re even being followed by the police,” he said. “They say that people who are thinking of entering illegally have no chance, but at the same time I have no sponsor. … I came to this country to work. I didn’t come here to play.”
The number of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border has increased dramatically in Biden’s first two years in office. In the year ended September 30, there were more than 2.38 million stops, the first time the number surpassed 2 million. The administration has struggled to crack down on transitions and is reluctant to adopt tough measures similar to those taken by the Trump administration.
The policy changes announced last week are Biden’s biggest move yet to curb illegal border crossings and will turn away tens of thousands of migrants arriving at the border. At the same time, every month 30,000 migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela are given the chance to enter the US legally, as long as they travel by plane, find a sponsor and pass background checks.
The US will also turn away migrants who do not first seek asylum in a country they passed through en route to the US
The changes have been welcomed by some, particularly leaders in cities where migrants congregate. But Biden has been angered by immigrant advocacy groups who have accused him of taking actions modeled after those of the former president.
“I have a problem comparing us to Donald Trump,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, pointing to some of his most maligned policies, including separating immigrant children from their parents.
“That’s not this president,” she said.
For all of his international travels in his 50 years of 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 to the border while he was running for president in 2008. He sent Vice President Kamala Harris to El Paso in 2021, but she was criticized for largely bypassing the action because El Paso wasn’t the center of intersections it is now.
President Barack Obama made a trip to El Paso in 2011 to tour border operations and the Paso Del Norte International Bridge, but he was later criticized for not returning when tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors entered the United States from Mexico.
Trump, who has made hardening immigration his trademark, has traveled to the border several times. On one visit, he huddled into a small border post to inspect cash and drugs seized by agents. During a trip to McAllen, Texas, then the center of a growing crisis, he made one of his most repeated claims that Mexico would pay for a border wall to be built.
In the end, American taxpayers footed the bill after Mexican leaders flatly rejected the idea.
“NO,” tweeted Enrique Peña Nieto, then-President of Mexico, in May 2018. “Mexico will NEVER pay for a wall. Not now, never. Sincerely, Mexico (all of us).”
Associated Press writer Morgan Lee of Santa Fe, New Mexico contributed to this report.
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