Texas

Biden to Visit El Paso County’s Bridge of the Americas Migrant Service Center

EL PASO, TX (border report). President Biden planned to visit the county’s migrant relief center and assess customs operations at the Bridge of the Americas during his visit to El Paso on Sunday, the White House said.

Air Force One was scheduled to land at El Paso International Airport around 12:30 p.m. with Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Majorcas, Democratic House members Veronica Escobar of E Paso, Henry Cuellar of Laredo, and Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen.

The White House said that while in El Paso, “the President will conduct an enforcement assessment at the Port of Entry on the Americas Bridge,” along with US Customs and Border Protection officials. The port recently received $600 million for improvements under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act.

The Bridge of the Americas is one of the busiest entry points on the US-Mexico border, especially when it comes to passenger vehicles.

Chart courtesy of the US Department of Transportation.

After the port tour, Biden is to visit the El Paso County Migrant Service Center, which is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Food and Housing Program. There, Biden will meet with local officials, religious leaders and representatives of non-governmental organizations who have been involved in providing services to migrants released from detention.

El Paso County opened a migrant processing center near El Paso International Airport. Officials gave journalists a tour of the facility on October 5, 2022 in El Paso. (Fernie Ortiz/Border Report)

The president’s visit to El Paso comes days after the White House announced a remote asylum application process for Nicaraguans, Cubans and Haitians, similar to the one introduced in October for Venezuelan migrants. The program leaves room for expulsion of migrants from those countries that cross the border illegally, and may deprive them of the right to apply for immigration benefits.

The caveat has angered immigration activists, who say the plan limits asylum from these countries and is actually an extension of the Trump-era Section 42 health care expulsion that Biden denounced during his campaign but upheld after lawsuits from republican states. The U.S. Supreme Court last month upheld Section 42, possibly until June, as it weighs Republican states’ arguments.

The port-of-entry tour could be symbolic of Biden’s upcoming meeting with Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, where trade will be the topic of Tuesday’s tripartite discussion. Biden and López Obrador are due to meet on Monday to discuss immigration and security issues such as drug trafficking, according to Mexican media reports.

Political weight on a border trip

Biden is coming to El Paso after nearly two years of Republican criticism of his immigration policies, which they say have prompted more than 4 million people to cross the border illegally since he took office.

Biden, immediately after taking office, advocated ending the Trump-era Mexico Stay Program (or the Migrant Protection Protocols program) and supported Congressional Democrats’ push for immigration reform, which included legalizing the millions of undocumented migrants already in the country.

The lawsuits forced the administration to temporarily reinstate the MPP before the Supreme Court allowed it to cease doing so. But a record 2022 migration surge in October prompted the White House to develop an asylum program for Venezuelan migrants, which activists have described as a constraint allowing the administration to extend Section 42 removal to citizens of the South American district. On January 5, DHS announced a similar program for Haitians, Cubans, and Nicaraguans, which was also denounced by advocates.

Speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Rep. Escobar said the administration is working with very limited immigration tools in the absence of congressional action.

“The executive branch is not the only branch of government that has to do its job,” Escobar said. “I have worked very closely with Secretary of State Majorcas, he is phenomenal. […] Where I’ve hit a brick wall is in Congress and, frankly, both Democrats and Republicans. […] House Democrats did pass the immigration bills, (but) when we have a 50/50 Senate and not a single Republican wants to work with us… I hope things change.”

But in a recent Fox News interview, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Biden’s visit to the border would not help stop illegal immigration.

“All he’s going to do there is rearrange chairs on the deck of the Titanic. He’s going to push for any solution that makes the border safer, more secure, or stops illegal immigration,” the Republican governor said.

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