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Joe Biden heads to El Paso for the first cross-border visit of his presidency.

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EL PASO — President Joe Biden heads for the U.S.-Mexico border on Sunday afternoon for the first time since he took office at the White House.

He is scheduled to travel to El Paso, where he will “assess border operations and meet with local elected officials and community leaders who have been important partners in managing the historic numbers of migrants fleeing political oppression and gang violence.”

According to news reports, Biden will tour the Americas Port of Entry bridge that connects El Paso to Ciudad Juarez for tourists and commercial trade. The President will also visit the El Paso County Migrant Service Center. Biden will be joined by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Majorcas, U.S. Representatives Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo and Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, El Paso Mayor Oscar Lizer, and El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego.

Later in the afternoon he is due to leave for Mexico City. Biden is scheduled to meet with Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City on Monday and Tuesday.

The president’s visit to the border is politically fraught as Republicans have accused Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris of neglecting border security and immigration issues as migrant arrests hit all-time highs last year.

During Biden’s visit to El Paso, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel will hold a press conference in the Rio Grande Valley with community leaders to criticize “the president’s disastrous border security plan and its impact on Texas’ border communities.”

Gov. Greg Abbott, who has made border security a top priority of his administration and initiated the construction of a state-funded border wall, urged the president to visit the Texas-Mexico border for several months. He has yet to say if he has any plans to join the Democrat or otherwise announce any counter-programs.

“It’s time for Joe Biden to come down to the border to see the chaos he himself has created,” Abbott said on Fox News on Friday. “It’s amazing that it took him two years to do it, and now he’s probably not going to do anything there other than a photo shoot.”

Biden recently announced a set of new policies that would allow 30,000 migrants a month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela to enter the country and be able to work legally for up to two years if they apply from their home country and can find someone to support them economically in the US

At the same time, immigration agents will expand the use of an emergency medical order, known as Section 42, to deport the same number of migrants from these four countries to Mexico if they try to enter the US illegally. According to the Department of Homeland Security, Mexico has agreed to accept up to 30,000 migrants per month from these countries under Section 42.E.

If more than this number is detained, immigration officials will process additional migrants under standard immigration laws, which could result in deportation and a five-year ban on legal entry into the country.

As part of the new policy, the Biden administration also plans to propose an immigration rule that would deny asylum to anyone who immigrated to other countries and did not first seek asylum there. This rule will go through a public comment phase before it is implemented and takes effect.

Some immigrant rights advocates have welcomed the new program allowing 30,000 migrants a month to enter legally. But they also criticized the president for extending Section 42 and a proposal to bar abused migrants from entering.

The Biden administration tried to repeal Section 42 earlier this year before a federal judge in Louisiana ordered the administration to continue enforcing the emergency health care ordinance. In November, Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., ordered the Biden administration to repeal Section 42 immediately and then agreed to give the federal government until December 21 to prepare for the change.

On December 27, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Biden administration must continue to enforce Section 42. The High Court agreed to hear arguments in February about whether the Arizona-led coalition of 19 states, including Texas, could challenge a lower court decision that ordered the Biden administration to overturn Section 42.

Dylan Corbett, executive director of El Paso’s Frontier Hope Institute, said he “would like this administration to make a moral argument for the rest of the country that we need to create an effective, humane, accessible, hospitable, and merciful security system for border.”

“In the end, expanding Section 42 to include Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans is an unfulfilled promise,” Corbett said. “Instead of putting our country on the right track to fully restore asylum at the border, these new actions reinforce dangerous, ineffective and inhumane policies.”

Eleanor Aser, senior director of refugee advocacy at Human Rights First, said: “We are calling on the administration to correct course, stop expanding Section 42, and abandon its misguided plan to promote a ban on asylum. “

“While we welcome the creation of new safe routes, we strongly condemn the Biden administration’s decision to expand the use of Section 42 to additional citizenships and its potential reinstatement of a new asylum ban that would alienate people seeking refugee protection,” she said.

Last month, El Paso became the epicenter of a significant increase in the number of migrants crossing the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez. Border Patrol officials released some of the migrants into downtown El Paso after they were processed, and hundreds slept outdoors in near-freezing temperatures because local shelters reached their limit. In fiscal year 2022, which ended in September, immigration agents encountered 2.4 million migrants at the southern border – a record number.

Meanwhile, in Segundo Barrio in El Paso, a neighborhood south of downtown, hundreds of migrants were sleeping on the street where the Church of the Sacred Heart housed some of the migrants at night. Not everyone fits into the shelter of the church, so many sleep on the sidewalks next to it.

The situation has been tense in recent weeks.

El Paso police recently arrested Stephen Matthew Driscoll, 27, on suspicion of stalking and pointing weapons at some migrants on New Year’s Eve. In addition, last week, El Paso police and border guards arrested migrants near a church. Police say they are arresting migrants who violate city ordinances, while border guard agents say they are arresting migrants who crossed the border without clearance.

Some migrants said they had enough money to leave the city by bus to reunite with family in other parts of the country, but were afraid to leave the church because they were afraid they would be arrested by the police or immigration agents.

On Friday afternoon, Pastor Rafael Garcia stood on a sidewalk corner looking worried when El Paso police arrested a migrant. An officer at the scene said Garcia police were arresting a migrant on suspicion of violating a city ordinance.

Garcia expressed his hope that Biden acknowledges that “these people are fleeing violence and are in a desperate situation.”

So what’s their alternative? he said.

Jorge Luis Lugo, a 26-year-old Venezuelan migrant, washed himself in a portable sink, saying he would like Biden to visit a church to see the conditions the migrants live in. He said he would like Biden’s latest immigration plan to include migrants who have already arrived.

“After sacrificing so much, how does he expect us to just come back?” he said. “We just want to be able to work and help our families at home.”

Carolina Rodriguez, 36, said they have been sleeping on the sidewalk next to the church since Christmas. She and her husband left their 12 and 9 year old daughters at home with her mother because they only want to be in the US for work. She said she has a cousin in Florida who is trying to raise enough money to buy them a plane or bus ticket from El Paso. In the meantime, she said she would stay working in El Paso, but for the time being she was denied a job as a hairdresser.

“Not all of us are bad,” she said, sitting at the altar of the Virgin of Guadalupe, her husband lying next to her. “Many of us have skills, professions and just want to work to succeed in life.”

In Venezuela, she worked as a kindergarten teacher, but after the country’s economy collapsed, there was not enough money to support her family. She worked various jobs, such as cutting her hair or baking cakes, but then she received death threats over the phone. She said she had a family that worked for the local government and anonymous threats came from people saying they would kidnap her or her children if she didn’t give them money in exchange for her safety.

She said she reported it to the police, but life in Venezuela was unbearable.

“I have a lot of faith in God, so if He wants me to be here on the streets, so be it,” she said. “Soon my family will be able to get me money to get out of here.”

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