EL PASO, Texas (AP) — President Joe Biden walked a muddy stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border and entered a busy port of entry Sunday on his first trip to the country after two years in office, fraught with political intrigue. As Republicans criticize immigration, it records the number of immigrants crossing into the country.
In his first state in El Paso, the president demonstrated how border officials observed how they search vehicles for drugs, money and other contraband. Then he made his way to a dusty street with deserted buildings and walked through the metal fence that separated City City from Ciudad Juarez.
His last stop was the El Paso County Migrant Services Center – but the migrants were in sight. There, when he learned of the services offered, he asked his assistant, “If I could raise a staff, what would I do?”
Biden’s nearly four-hour drive to El Paso is very moderate. He encountered no migrants except when he drove motorcades across the border and lined up about a dozen on the side of Ciudad Juárez. His visit did not include time at the Border Patrol station, where migrants who cross illegally are arrested and detained before being released.
The planned visit was seen as a soft move to process legal migrants, remove smugglers and humanely treat those who entered illegally, creating a counter-narrative for Republicans about equalizing the situation with an open border.
But his vision was likely to do little to quell critics on both sides, including immigrant advocates who accuse him of instituting draconian policies not unlike those of his hard-line predecessor, Donald Trump.
In a sign of deep tensions over immigration, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, delivered the letter to Biden immediately and reached the state in what he said was “chaos” in the term “direct exit” for the president. failure of federal laws. Biden later took the letter out of his bag during his trip, telling reporters, “I haven’t read it yet.”
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy visited Biden as a “photo op,” saying on Twitter that the Republican administration is holding “arrangements to create the most dangerous border crisis in American history.”
El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego accepted Biden’s greeting, but the current busyness of the arrivals prevented the president from seeing the large number of arrivals.
“He didn’t find any real problems,” said Samaniego, who greeted Biden at the local embassy. “It was good here. It’s the first step. But we still need to do more and have more with him.
Elsewhere in El Paso, where Biden did not visit, hundreds of Sunday migrants gathered outside the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where they slept outside and received three meals a day from faith groups and humanitarian organizations.
The migrants included several pregnant women, including Karla Sainz, 26 and eight months along. He was going in a small group in which he included his 2-year-old son Joshua. Sainz left three other children at home in Venezuela with their mother.
“We’re asking President Biden to give me permission or help so that we can continue to work,” he said.
Juan Tovar, 32, one of several in his group, suggested that he also had political reasons for leaving his country.
“Socialism is the worst,” he said. “In Venezuela they kill us, they torture us, we cannot talk about the government. We are worse than in Cuba.
Noengris Garcia, also eight months pregnant, was traveling with her husband, teenage son and small family dog from the Portuguese state of Venezuela, where she worked at a food stall.
“We don’t want to be given money or a house,” said Garcia, 39. “We just want a job.”
Asked what he’s learned from seeing the presidential term and talking to officials who work through it, Biden said: “They need a lot of resources. We’re going to get them.”
El Paso is an important corridor for the right of transitin large part due to Nicaraguans fleeing repression, crime and poverty in their country. They are among the migrants from four countries who are now subject to expedited deportation under new rules put in place by the Biden administration in the past week that has drawn strong criticism from immigration advocates.
Biden’s recent policy announcements on security and on his border visit were designed in part to blunt the impact of upcoming investigations into immigration promised by House Republicans. But any long-term solution will require action from a sharply divided Congress, where multiple attempts to enact change in recent years have failed.
From Texas, Biden headed south to Mexico City, where he and the Mexican and Canadian leaders will gather on Monday and Tuesday for the leaders of North America. Immigration is among the items on the agenda.
The numbers of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border rose dramatically during Biden’s first two years in office. More than 2.38 million people quit in the year ending Sept. 30. finished, the first number topped 2 million. The administration has developed a clampdown on transit, reluctantly accepting policies that would be the Trump administration’s tourism.
The policy changes announced last week are Biden’s biggest moves yet to contain illegal border crossings and turn away tens of thousands of migrants coming to the border. At the same time, 30,000 migrants per month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela will have the opportunity to arrive in the United States legally, while traveling by plane, sponsoring and passing the screening process.
The US will also turn away migrants who are not seeking asylum first in the country on their way to the Migrant States by being asked to fill out a form on a phone app so they can go to the port of entry at a pre-scheduled date and time.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters on Air Force One that the administration is “incentivizing a safe and orderly way and cutting out illegal organizations,” saying the measures are “not a ban at all” but an attempt to protect migrants from the trauma that smuggling can create.
The changes were welcomed by some, especially leaders in the cities where the migrants were congregating. But Biden is scorned by advocacy groups, who have accused him of copying the former president’s bills. The administration of the police discussed the reason.
For all his international travel during his 50 years in public office, Biden hasn’t spent much time on the US-Mexico border.
The only visit that could show the White House was the border beat by Biden while he was running for president in 2008. He sent Vice President Kamala Harris to El Paso in 2021But it is widely criticized for its passing activity because El Paso was not the transit center it is now.
Trump, who has made toughening immigration a signature issue, has traveled to the border several times.
Associated Press Writers Andres Leighton in El Paso, Texas; Anita Snow in Phoenix; Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Josh Boak, Washington contributed to this report.