Biden to get a first-hand look at the US-Mexico border situation

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden is headed to US-Mexico border Sunday, his first trip there as president after two years of hounding by Republicans who have hammered him as soft on border security while the number of migrants crossing spirals.

Biden will spend a few hours in El Paso, Texascurrently main corridor for illegal crossings, which is largely due to Nicaraguans fleeing oppression, crime and poverty in their country. They are among migrants from four countries now subject to expedited deportation under new rules enacted by the Biden administration in the past week.

The president is expected to meet with border officials to discuss migration as well as increased human trafficking fentanyl and other synthetic opioidswhich drives the skyrocketing number of overdoses in the United States

Biden will visit the El Paso County Migrant Services Center and meet with nonprofits and religious groups that support migrants arriving in the United States. It is not clear whether Biden will speak to any migrants.

“The president is very much looking forward to seeing for himself what the border security situation looks like,” said John Kirby, White House national security spokesman. “This is something he himself wanted to see.”

Biden’s announcement on border security and his visit to the border are intended in part to quell the political noise and blunt the impact of upcoming investigations into immigration promised by House Republicans. But any lasting solution will require action from the sharply divided Congress, where several efforts to enact sweeping changes have failed in recent years.

Republican senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas offered faint praise for Biden’s decision to visit the border, and even that was notable in the current political climate.

“He needs to take the time to learn from some of the experts I trust most, including local officials and law enforcement, landowners, nonprofit organizations, US Customs and Border Protection’s officers and agents, and people who make a living in border communities on the front lines in his crisis,” Cornyn said.

From El Paso, Biden continues south to Mexico City, where he and the leaders of Mexico and Canada will gather Monday and Tuesday for a North American leadership summit. Immigration is among the items on the agenda.

In El Paso, where migrants gather at bus stops and in parks before traveling on, Border Patrol agents have stepped up security ahead of Biden’s visit.

“I think they’re trying to send a message that they’re going to more consistently check people’s documented status and if you haven’t been processed, they’re going to pick you up,” said Ruben Garcia of the Annunciation House aid group in El Paso.

Migrants and asylum seekers fleeing violence and persecution have increasingly found that protection in the United States is primarily available to those with money or the savvy to find someone to sponsor them financially.

Jose Natera, a Venezuelan migrant in El Paso who hopes to seek asylum in Canada, said he has no prospect of finding an American sponsor and is now reluctant to seek asylum in the United States because he fears to be sent to Mexico.

Mexico “is a terrible country where there is crime, corruption, cartels and even the police are after you,” he said. “They say that people who think about entering illegally don’t have a chance, but at the same time I don’t have a sponsor. … I came to this country to work. I didn’t come here to play.”

The number of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border has increased dramatically during Biden’s first two years in office. There were more than 2.38 million stops during the year ended Sept. 30, the first time the number reached 2 million. The administration has struggled to crack down on crossings, hesitant to take tough measures that would resemble those of the Trump administration.

The policy changes announced this past week are Biden’s biggest move yet to curb illegal border crossings and will turn away tens of thousands of migrants arriving at the border. At the same time, 30,000 migrants a month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela will have the chance to enter the United States legally as long as they travel by plane, get a sponsor and pass background checks.

The US will also turn back migrants who do not seek asylum first in a country they passed through on their way to the US

The changes were welcomed by some, particularly leaders in cities where migrants have congregated. But Biden was vilified by immigrant groups, who accused him of taking measures modeled after those of the former president.

“I take issue with comparing us to Donald Trump,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, pointing to some of his most reviled policies, including the separation of migrant children from their parents.

“It’s not that president,” she said.

For all his international travel during his 50 years in public service, Biden hasn’t spent much time at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The only visit the White House could point to was Biden’s drive along the border while campaigning for president in 2008. He sent Vice President Kamala Harris to El Paso in 2021but she was criticized for largely bypassing the action because El Paso was not the center of crossings that it is now.

In 2011, President Barack Obama took a trip to El Pasowhere he toured border operations and the Paso Del Norte International Bridge, but he was later criticized for not returning when tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors crossed into the United States from Mexico.

Trump, who has made tough immigration a signature issue, traveled to the border several times. During one visit, he crowded into a small border station to inspect cash and drugs confiscated by agents. During a trip to McAllen, Texasthen the center of a growing crisis, he made one of his most-repeated claims that Mexico would pay to build a border wall.

American taxpayers ended up paying the bill after Mexican leaders flatly rejected the idea.

“NO,” tweeted Enrique Peña Nieto, then president of Mexico, in May 2018. “Mexico will NEVER pay for a wall. Not now, not ever. Sincerely, Mexico (all of us).”


Associated Press writer Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico, contributed to this report.

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