Biden visited El Paso on his first U.S.-Mexico border visit as president

President Joe Biden visited the US-Mexico border for the first time since his inauguration on Sunday.

He was met at the El Paso airport by Gov. Greg Abbott, who handed the president a letter but was not invited to the remainder of Biden’s four-hour visit. At a press conference, Abbott called Biden’s visit a show off “unless he starts enforcing existing immigration laws.”

The stop in El Paso preceded the North American leaders’ summit in Mexico City today and Tuesday, but it followed Biden’s remarks in Washington last week announcing a new set of policies that were heavily criticized by immigration advocates. These new rules will allow 30,000 migrants a month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela to enter the US to work for up to two years, but they must apply from their home countries and first find a sponsor in the US. And the border guards will expand the powers of Section 42 to deport the same number of migrants from these countries if they try to enter without documents. If more than that number are taken into custody, they could be deported and face a five-year ban on legal entry.

Angela Kocherga, director of news for KTEP in El Paso, joined the Texas Standard to share more about what the president did during his trip to the border. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:

Texas Standard: Tell us a little more about the President’s visit to El Paso. Where did he actually stop?

Angela Kocherga: Well, it was a short but eventful visit. The President began with the busiest international bridge, the Bridge of the Americas, where he met with US Customs and Border Protection officials. And they showed him high-tech screening and other ways to detect smuggling attempts. It should see some security issues. He also inspected the border wall – a fence, a barrier, whatever we call it: an existing structure right on the border with border guard agents. It was an unexpected stop. And his last stop was at the Migrant Service Center set up by the county to help thousands of families seeking asylum.

It must have been somewhat awkward at the opening of the event when Governor Abbott met President Biden at the airport and handed him a letter. What’s in that letter?

Yeah, well, the governor was invited there. He was not invited to tour, but it was a very short and cordial meeting. And he gave the president a letter with five demands for increased border security, including the resumption of what he called the construction of the border wall in Texas at the expense of taxpayers. So, short meeting.

But beyond that, he also talked to El Paso Democratic Congresswoman Veronica Escobar. She was asked about what was said because it was a bit longer and there was some heated discussion. They discussed immigration, asylum. And she accused him of using the ride [as] political posturing, as she put it in a press conference, that the Republican governor wanted to use the letter to raise funds when he runs for president.

Let’s go back to what the president actually saw and his reaction. I believe that the president did speak to reporters at some point during his visit.

He did not make any specific remarks, but answered a few questions while standing near the border fence/border wall and asked what he had already learned. And he said that now the border needs more resources and that his administration is working to provide them. But beyond that, he didn’t talk anymore or ask him questions.

Of course, his visit is in the spotlight as it comes right after the announcement of some new immigration rules and policies. Tell us a little more about how this change in approach was received.

Well, immigrant advocates and those who help migrants and asylum seekers say the new process, modeled after the one created for Venezuelans, is changing the asylum process so people don’t show up at the border. And now that includes Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti, which account for most of the people we see here along the border. And they are told that they should apply for asylum abroad and preferably in their own countries.

And immigrant rights advocates, one person told me, is ridiculous; they are fleeing these countries and they will not be able to do so. The migrants who are already here are in limbo. Some groups say something needs to be done for people already in the US because they really can’t go back and try to apply. Now, the Republicans say it’s too little, too late, and all they’re doing is sort of moving people south of the border, but the process is still going on, and there’s still a huge number of people trying to come into the country. .

It doesn’t look like President Biden has really satisfied either side in this debate about how best to handle the border situation.

He is not. And, you know, his administration is saying, including this secretary of homeland security, that we’re doing everything we can with our limited tools, and again pointing to Congress to do some sort of immigration reform. And, of course, we have seen for decades what was not there. The only thing I see on both sides agreeing is that it’s a broken system that needs fixing, but there aren’t many fixes.

As far as I understand, some politicians are back in town today.

Yes, we have a rare bipartisan group of senators led by a senator. [John] Kornin, and he is here to hear the opinion of the inhabitants of the frontier. They will hold a round table and discuss issues with the border guards, law enforcement agencies and business leaders. So, again, bipartisanship, which we haven’t seen — and the frontiers, the Texans are celebrating because instead of using the frontier as a backdrop, they’re hoping that these senators will learn from the people that are here on the frontier.

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