EL PASO, Texas. President Joe Biden faced pleas for help addressing the migrant crisis when he made his first visit to the US-Mexico border since taking office on Sunday, visiting El Paso, where migrants sleep on the streets.
Biden walked along a section of the rust-coloured border wall separating El Paso from Juarez, Mexico, and met with local officials, community leaders and others who face the humanitarian crisis on a daily basis.
“They need a lot of resources,” he told reporters, who asked what he learned. “We’re going to get them for them.”
Biden’s trip, which lasted about four hours, came amid criticism from Republicans and some Democratic lawmakers for not doing enough to address the influx of migrants on the southern border. From Texas, Biden flew to Mexico City to meet with North American leaders on immigration and other issues.
The number of migrants crossing the border – some seeking asylum legally, others entering illegally – has skyrocketed in Biden’s first two years in office. El Paso is currently the largest illegal crossing corridor, partly due to Nicaraguans fleeing repression, crime and poverty in their country. Last month, El Paso Mayor Oscar Lizer declared a state of emergency due to the crisis.
On Sunday, as he disembarked from Air Force One, Biden was greeted by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, one of the most vocal critics of the administration’s border policy. Abbott handed Biden a letter describing his visit as a series of carefully choreographed photo ops and outlined five steps the administration can take to secure the border, including immediately resuming construction of the Texas border wall.
Meanwhile, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in downtown Segundo Barrio historic district, a mixture of uncertainty, hope and fear continued to be felt among the hundreds of migrants camped outside.
The men, women, and small children — mostly men, many from Venezuela — in the church are in limbo, unable to continue moving into the US and fearing they will be detained by the US Border Patrol if they leave the church grounds.
The migrants said they want Biden to let them stay, fearing deportation and reprisals if they return to Venezuela. Some stated that if they could not stay in the US, they would like to continue north to Canada.
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“We just want good news,” said Maria Rodriguez, 28, who left Venezuela with her family four months ago for the United States. “Now we are stuck here (in El Paso). We don’t know what to do, where to go. We cannot leave here (from the church) because if immigration catches us, we will be deported.”
“Dude, I’ve never seen anything like this before,” El Paso resident Sergio Contreras said as he stopped to admire the migrants lining the sidewalks outside Sacred Heart Church. sits, but at some point stretched out over three neighboring blocks, he said.
Calling on the federal government to do more, Contreras, 44, said he helped with his money, but added: “What can one person do to help?”
El Paso is at the center of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, said Isabelle Salcido, an El Paso city council member who previously urged the president to visit the border.
“We’re continuing to put band-aids on bullet wounds,” said Salcido, who said she plans to emphasize to Biden the importance of helping border communities cope with the fallout from Congress’s failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform.
- Visiting the international bridge: Biden’s first stop in El Paso was at the Port of America Bridge, a busy port that connects the city to Juarez. The port has received over $600 million in federal infrastructure funding for the renovation. With a rusty steel border fence a short distance behind him, Biden watched a display of security measures, including dogs sniffing out contraband and border patrol agents illustrating how they ransacked hidden compartments.
- Stopping the border wall: Biden visited the border wall separating El Paso from Juarez. He walked slowly along the wall with the border guards and spoke to a couple of agents near the rusty steel mesh fence.
- Migrant Center: Biden stopped by the El Paso County Migrant Service Center, which meets people released from border control and helps them find transportation and other services they need. Biden met with local officials and religious and community leaders who have been partners in fighting the influx of migrants fleeing political oppression and economic collapse in their countries. The workers showed him bags of socks, shoes, clothes and other supplies. “If I could wave my wand, what would I do?” he asked. They say additional funding is needed.
- Tour of El Paso: Rep. Veronica Escobar of El Paso, who traveled with Biden aboard Air Force One, said she was grateful to Biden for accepting her invitation. “It is important to me that he hears from those who work directly with migrants on the ground,” she said, “because border communities such as ours have had to take on significant responsibilities related to this historic refugee crisis in the western hemisphere.”
- New migration policy: Biden unveiled new policy moves to counter the influx of asylum seekers at the border. The policy calls for the expulsion of up to 30,000 migrants per month from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba, who make up the majority of those who cross the border. As a rule, these people are returned to their home countries, but the US does not have diplomatic relations with Venezuela and fraught with ties with Nicaragua and Cuba. Mexico agreed to accept migrants from each of the four countries.
- Why is he going to Mexico: Biden is attending the North American leaders’ summit in Mexico City, where the most significant migration to the US since World War II will be the focus of two days of talks with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. In addition to immigration, climate change, competitiveness and security are also on the agenda. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will take part in some of the talks.
In the fiscal year ending September 30, over 2.38 million migrant stopovers were recorded, the first time that the number has exceeded 2 million. US Customs and Border Protection recorded an average of 1,800 migrant encounters per day in El Paso in December. The agency reported more than 50,000 encounters with migrants in October, November and December.
Dozens of people, including many who crossed illegally after being banned from seeking asylum at the border, continue to sleep on the streets in downtown El Paso. The city has provided buses for the migrants to keep warm, while local religious and non-profit organizations provide them with meals.
State and local authorities fear an even greater influx of asylum seekers if the US Supreme Court strikes down a Trump-era public health law that allows US authorities to expel migrants quickly. Biden tried to end the controversial Title 42 program, but Republicans have sued to keep the restrictions in place.
Just days before the restrictions expired, the Supreme Court ruled late last month that the administration could not stop the program from expelling migrants. The judges said they would hear arguments about the program next year.
Biden’s new policy to return illegal migrants from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba will remain in place even if the Supreme Court strikes down Section 42. At the same time, the US said it would take in 30,000 migrants a month from those four countries for two years , if they have suitable sponsors, they pass screening and background checks and do not attempt to cross the southwest border.
However, the new policy angered asylum and immigration advocates, who had a rocky relationship with the president.
What they’re saying
- “The federal government has been our partner in this humanitarian crisis and has provided much needed financial support as we help address this critical federal issue. While President Biden is fully aware of the challenges we face, it’s always good to look at things soberly. your own eyes.” – El Paso Mayor Oscar Lesser
- “While I am glad that President Biden will finally come to the border, his visit cannot be a photo shoot for show, like the antics of his border king more than a year and a half ago, which was not serious and unacceptable. He must take the time to learn from some of the experts I rely on most, including local officials and law enforcement, landowners, non-profits, US Customs and Border Protection employees and agents, and people who make a living at the border. communities at the front. lines of his crisis. — Sen. John Cornyn, Texas.
- “If President Biden is serious about resolving the crisis created by his administration, he needs to visit McAllen, Eagle Pass, Del Rio and Laredo and talk to communities ravaged by crime, ranchers who find bodies on their land, to the Border Patrol. who are overwhelmed, and families who have lost loved ones due to the cross-border drug trade. Instead, he spent two years convincing the American public how bad things really are.” — Senator Ted Cruz, Texas.
- “This visit is about two years late and about $20 billion short of what needs to be done. make the border safer, more secure and stop illegal immigration.” — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Fox News Sunday Morning Futures.
- “We are deeply disappointed by Biden’s shameful expansion of Trump’s Section 42 policy, which further reinforces his predecessor’s anti-immigrant legacy. … All people have the right to seek asylum and vital legal protection, regardless of their race, nationality, or current ties to the United States. Biden must deliver on his promise to build a more welcoming and inclusive immigration system.” – Leila Razavi, Acting Executive Director of the human rights group Freedom for Immigrants.
Why is it important
Biden is being pressured to detail his plans to deal with the influx of migrants at the US-Mexico border. Border security is a top priority for Republicans, who took control of the House of Representatives in November’s midterm elections and criticized the Democrat for not visiting the border. Republicans also vowed to investigate the administration’s actions on the issue.
Biden said that while “extreme Republicans” will use immigration as their campaign theme, “they now have a choice. They can continue to use immigration to try and score political points, or they can help solve the problem… and come together to fix the broken system.”
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Contributing: Joey Garrison of USA Today and Associated Press.