EL PASO, Texas (AP) — President Joe Biden walked a muddy stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border and inspected a busy port of entry Sunday in his first trip to the region after two years in office. immigration, Republicans are trying to blame him for the record number of migrants entering the country.
During his first stop, the president watched as border guards in El Paso demonstrated how they search vehicles for drugs, money and other contraband. Next he went to a dusty street with abandoned buildings and a small playground. Not far from the street was a metal border fence separating the US city from Ciudad Juarez. Biden walked slowly along the border wall, initially joined by two Border Patrol agents.
In a sign of deep tensions over immigration, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, delivered a letter to Biden after he arrived in the state that said the “chaos” at the border was a “direct result” of the president’s failure to enforce the requirement. federal laws. Later, Biden took the letter out of his jacket pocket during his tour, telling reporters, “I haven’t read it yet.”
Asked what he’s learned from seeing the border in person and talking to officers working on it, Biden said: “They need a lot of resources. We’re going to get them.
Immigration has been a major point of conflict for years, exposing both the dysfunction of the US system and the turmoil in migrants’ host countries that have forced many to flee. Administration officials have sought to deflect criticism from Republicans, saying Congress should work with them to increase funding for border security and overhaul immigration policy.
Biden spent only a few hours in the citywhich is currently the largest corridor for illegal crossings, thanks in large part to Nicaraguans fleeing repression, crime and poverty in their country. They are among migrants from four countries now subject to expedited deportation under new rules passed by the Biden administration last week, which drew strong criticism from immigration advocates.
The president was also scheduled to visit the El Paso County Migrant Services Center and meet with nonprofits and religious groups that support migrants coming to the United States. It was not clear whether he would speak to the migrants.
Biden’s announcement on border security and his visit to the border are aimed in part at drowning out political noise and undermining the impact of an upcoming immigration investigation promised by House Republicans. But any lasting solution will require action by a sharply divided Congress, where several efforts to enact sweeping changes have failed in recent years.
From El Paso, Biden was to continue south to Mexico City, where he and the leaders of Mexico and Canada will gather on Monday and Tuesday for the North American Leadership Summit. Immigration is one of the agenda items.
In El Paso, where migrants gather at bus stops and parks before moving on, Border Patrol agents stepped up security ahead of Biden’s visit.
“I think they’re trying to send a message that they’re going to check people’s documented status more consistently, and if you’re not processed, they’re going to take you in,” said Ruben Garcia of the Proclamation House outreach group. Breathe.
Migrants and asylum seekers fleeing violence and persecution have increasingly found that U.S. protection is available primarily to those with the money or the savvy to find someone to sponsor them financially.
Jose Castillo, a Venezuelan migrant who said he traveled without family members from his home on Margarita Island for five months to arrive in El Paso on Dec. 29, said he hoped Biden would “consider us as the people that we are.”
Castillo was among a group of about 30 migrants who gathered Sunday morning for prayers outside Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where many of the new arrivals have settled.
“We have suffered much since we entered the jungles of the Darien Gap and crossed into Mexico. It’s all been a battle, a battle, a battle,” he said. “I know we’re here illegally, but please give us a chance.”
The number of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border has increased dramatically during Biden’s first two years in office. There were more than 2.38 million stops in the year ended Sept. 30, surpassing 2 million for the first time. The administration has struggled to curb the crossings, reluctant to take tough measures similar to those of former President Donald Trump’s administration.
The policy changes announced last week are Biden’s biggest step yet to curb illegal border crossings and will prevent tens of thousands of migrants from arriving at the border. At the same time, 30,000 migrants a month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela will be able to enter the US legally as long as they travel by plane, get a sponsor and pass background checks.
The US will also turn back migrants who do not first seek asylum in the country through which they entered the US. Migrants are asked to fill out a form on the phone app so they can go to the port of entry in advance. – scheduled date and time.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorka told reporters aboard Air Force One that the administration was trying to “incentivize safe and orderly passage and root out smuggling organizations,” saying the policy was “not at all a ban” but an attempt to protect migrants from the trauma that could result. smuggling.
The change was welcomed by some, particularly leaders in cities where migrants congregate en masse. But Biden was cheered by immigrant advocacy groups, who accused him of following the former president’s efforts. Administration officials disputed that characterization.
For all his international travel in his 50 years in public service, Biden hasn’t spent much time on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The only visit the White House could point to was Biden’s trip along the border while he was running for president in 2008. In 2021, he sent Vice President Kamal Harris to El Paso.but she was criticized for bypassing the move because El Paso was not the intersectional hub it is now.
President Barack Obama made a trip to El Paso in 2011where he visited border operations and the Paso Del Norte International Bridge, but was later criticized for not returning as tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors crossed into the United States from Mexico.
Trump, who has made toughening immigration a signature issue, has made several trips to the border. During one visit, he squeezed into a small border station to inspect cash and drugs seized by agents. During the trip to McAllen, Texasat the center of the growing crisis at the time, he made one of his most repeated claims that Mexico would pay to build a border wall.
American taxpayers ended with Mexican leaders flatly rejecting the idea.
Associated Press writers Andres Layton in El Paso, Texas; Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Josh Boak in Washington contributed to this report.