WASHINGTON. Two years after taking office, President Joe Biden will make his first visit to the US-Mexico border on Sunday, with a stop in El Paso, where a massive influx of migrants has overwhelmed local shelters.
Republicans have long demanded such a visit, insisting that Biden see firsthand the crisis, which they blame on lax enforcement and misguided immigration policy.
“I myself will visit the border this Sunday in El Paso to assess border operations, meet with local officials and community leaders, and people at the border,” Biden said at the White House on Thursday.
Announcing a series of measures aimed at easing pressure by curbing illegal border crossings, allowing 30,000 migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti to enter the country each month, he added: “I know that migration creates a real strain on the border. and border communities.
On the border, Biden will demand record homeland security funding from Congress. He accused GOP extremists of blocking a revamped immigration policy that would have averted the current crisis and praised the religious and civic groups that have come to the aid of the refugees, calling them “a powerful rebuke to the hostility and even hatred” fomented by fear mongers who yell “invasion” and warn that the English language in the United States is endangered.
“This issue is so easy to demagogue,” Biden said. “Republicans didn’t take it seriously at all.”
El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego called Biden’s border visit “long overdue,” noting that migrants have “flooded” in some border communities.
Republicans blamed Biden for the delay and questioned his commitment to securing the border.
“While I’m glad President Biden is finally coming to the border, his visit can’t be a photo op for show like his … frivolous and unacceptable” first border visit by his border czar in June 2021, also to El Paso, the senator said John Cornyn, Texas. “If he wants to make this trip meaningful, to find tough solutions to the complete disaster that his policies have created, I would be happy to point him in the right direction.”
Republicans derisively called Vice President Kamala Harris a “frontier czar,” even though Biden instructed her to work only with Central American countries that generate large migrant flows, not to keep the borders secure.
Gov. Greg Abbott also mentioned Harris’ first border visit.
“The time has come for President Biden to visit the southern border and resolve the crisis he has created,” he said. “However, if he plans to just do a photo stunt like Frontier Czar Harris and turn a blind eye to the suffering of Texans, he should stay in DC… frontier politics that hurt frontier communities.”
The administration vehemently denies that the border is “open”.
Democrats welcomed the visit.
Rep. Veronica Escobar, MP for El Paso and a former district judge, accused Republicans of prone to “skydiving into my neighborhood” to score political points while blocking meaningful changes to mitigate “the effects of decades of failed and outdated immigration politicians”.
“I am grateful to the White House for using historical resources and supporting border communities, and for creating expanded legal pathways for asylum seekers. El Paso has been the epicenter of this humanitarian crisis,” she said.
A growing number of Republicans are demanding the resignation or impeachment of Biden’s Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mallorcas.
Rep. Michael McCall, R-Austin, former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, criticized Biden for waiting so long to visit the border as president, “after 5 million people illegally crossed the border and 100 000 people died because of fentanyl. from China and Mexico.
Speaking on Fox News, he accused Biden of trying to capitalize on “chaos” in Congress by trying to project leadership as Republicans squabble over the election of a new speaker. “He did nothing to protect the border…. You have to wonder about the timing of this,” he said.
Biden will stop in Texas on his way to a two-day summit in Mexico City with President Andres Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
When Biden was vice president, President Barack Obama also visited the border in El Paso for the first time. This was in May 2011, four months after his presidency. Obama ridiculed the Republican Party’s demands for even more border security before they strike a deal on immigration reform.
“Maybe they’ll say we need a moat. Or alligators in a moat. They will never be satisfied,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dampened labor demand, and President Donald Trump’s tough policies and rhetoric have further curbed migration, setting the stage for a boomerang effect that came when Biden took office.
Since then, there has been a massive increase in the number of migrants at the border, even though the public health law known as Section 42 remains in place, allowing US authorities to turn down many asylum seekers.
In April, Abbott began sending buses of migrants to the nation’s capital to urge Biden to pay more attention to the surge. As of Tuesday, Texas sent 16,500 migrants to Washington, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, according to his office.
Even the city of El Paso, a Democratic stronghold, began sending migrants to New York and Chicago in August to ease the depletion of local resources.
To date, Texas has delivered over 16,500 migrants to cities of refuge.
Over 9,100 in DC
Over 5100 in New York
Over 1500 people in Chicago
More than 840 people in Philadelphia
We will continue to provide relief to overburdened border communities as Biden refuses to guard the border.
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) January 3, 2023
“He’ll come here and turn his back, he’ll blame others,” longtime critic Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents grassroots border agents, told Fox News. “He’s doing it because he’s being forced, not because he wants real solutions.”
Al Zapanta, a Republican and CEO of the Dallas-based US-Mexico Chamber of Commerce, also hit Biden for waiting so long.
“Now is the time,” he said. “He needs to see the mess at the border. We have an open border and he needs to fix that.”
The administration rejects the idea that the border is “open”.
El Paso “beared the brunt of the humanitarian crisis,” Samaniego, the district judge, said. “It will be important for the president to see the border with his own eyes. You can learn a lot and it can lead to a better understanding of what we, as border guards, are facing because of politics in Washington DC.”
El Paso, known as the “Ellis Island of the Southwest,” has been coping with a massive influx of migrants for weeks.
Many have crossed the Rio Grande expecting Title 42 to end on December 21st at the judge’s decision. Instead, the Supreme Court upheld the policy until oral argument next month.
Trump imposed the restriction at the start of the pandemic in early 2020. It has since been used 2.5 million times to expel asylum seekers on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Supporters of immigration say the policy violates U.S. and international commitments to people fleeing persecution, and that vaccines and improved treatments have made it obsolete.
Some migrants said they felt cheated. While waiting for Section 42 to be repealed, they crossed the Rio Grande without being processed by immigration authorities. Now they are in limbo and threatened with exile.
“The truth is, I don’t know what to do,” said Gabriel Castillo, a Venezuelan man who slept on the street. Dallas Morning News recently. “Many of my friends tried to get on the bus and leave El Paso. But now they’re back in Mexico. We’re just waiting for some sort of decision.”
Even with Section 42 in place, tens of thousands of migrants have crossed the El Paso border since late August, according to Customs and Border Protection. Many did not qualify for expulsion because their home countries and Mexico would not accept them.
The week before Christmas, the Department of Homeland Security said it removed nearly 10,000 people from El Paso via Section 42, deportation, or transfer to other border towns in a process they call “decompression.”
The El Paso Convention Center has hosted about 500 people, according to Mario D’Agostino, deputy city manager. While the number of arrivals is declining, the number without proper documentation is growing.
“If they continue to enter without being detected, we will continue to increase this population in our community and this is a concern,” he said.
Todd J. Gillman reported from Washington and Alfredo Corchado reported from El Paso.