Biden visits Mexico border amid Republican criticism

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — President Joe Biden walked a muddy stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border Sunday, inspecting a busy port of entry, in his first trip to the region in years. two years into his post, in a visit that was overshadowed by the tense situation around immigration policy, as Republicans try to blame him for the record numbers of migrants entering the country.

At his first stop, Biden watched as El Paso border agents showed him how they search vehicles for drugs, money or other contraband. He then headed down a dusty street lined with abandoned buildings and walked along a metal border fence that separates El Paso from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

His last stop was at the Migrant Services Center in El Paso, but there were no migrants in sight. While being told about the services offered there, she asked an aid worker: “If I could wave the magic wand, what would I do?” The response was not audible.

Biden’s nearly four-hour visit to El Paso was conducted under intense scrutiny. He found no migrants, except when his convoy passed the border and about a dozen gathered on the Ciudad Juárez side. His visit did not include going to a Border Patrol station, where migrants who cross illegally are detained. He did not make public statements.

The visit seemed designed to showcase a way of operating that works smoothly to process legal migrants, root out smuggling, and treat illegal entrants humanely, creating a counternarrative to Republican claims that a situation exists. crisis equivalent to the border being open.

But his tour will likely do little to silence critics on both sides, including immigrant rights activists who accuse him of setting cruel policies no different from those of his hardline predecessor, Donald Trump.

In a sign of the heightened political tensions over immigration, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott handed Biden a letter upon arrival stating that the “chaos” at the border was a “direct result” of his inability to of the president to enforce federal laws. Biden later removed the letter from his jacket pocket during his tour and told reporters: “I haven’t read it yet.”

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy called Biden’s visit a “photo op,” saying on Twitter that the Republican majority would hold the government “to account for creating the most dangerous border crisis in American history.” .”

For his part, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego welcomed Biden’s visit, but noted that a current lull in migrant arrivals prevented the president from seeing how large the group of new arrivals has been.

“He did not get to see the real difficulties,” said Samaniego, who was in the local delegation that received Biden. “It’s good that you were here. It is a first step. But we still have to do more and spend more time with him.”

Elsewhere in El Paso, hundreds of migrants were gathered outside the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where they have been sleeping outdoors and receiving three meals a day from religious groups and other aid organizations.

Among the migrants were several pregnant women, including Karla Sainz, 26, eight months pregnant. She was traveling in a small group that included her 2-year-old son, Joshua. Sainz left her other three children in Venezuela with her mother.

“I would ask President Biden to help us with a permit or something so that we can work and continue,” he declared.

Juan Tovar, 32, one of several individuals traveling in Sainz’s group, implied that he, too, had political reasons for leaving his country.

“It’s that socialism is the worst,” he asserted. “In Venezuela they kill us, torture us and we can’t speak ill of the government. We are worse than in Cuba”.

Noenegris Garcia, also eight months pregnant, was traveling with her husband, teenage son and small family dog ​​from the small state of Portuguesa, Venezuela, where she ran a food stand.

“We don’t want them to give us money or a house,” said García, 39. “What we want is to work.”

Asked what he has learned from seeing the border firsthand and speaking with the agents who work there, Biden replied: “They need a lot of resources. Let’s get them.”

El Paso is currently the largest corridor for illegal crossings, a situation that is due in large part to the flow of Nicaraguan citizens fleeing repression, crime and poverty in their country. Four nationalities — including Nicaraguans — are now subject to expedited removal under new rules enacted by the Biden administration last week, drawing strong criticism from migrant advocates.

Biden’s announcement on border security and his visit to the border are intended in part to blunt the impact of upcoming immigration investigations promised by House Republicans. But any lasting solution will require intervention by Congress, which is sharply divided and where multiple attempts to enact sweeping changes have failed in recent years.

From Texas, Biden headed south to Mexico City, where he and the heads of Mexico and Canada will meet Monday and Tuesday for a summit. Immigration is one of the items on the agenda. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador met Biden at the airport Sunday night and escorted him in the presidential limousine for the ride to Biden’s hotel.

The number of migrants crossing the border into the United States has increased dramatically during Biden’s first two years in office. There were more than 2.38 million arrests during the year ending September 30, the first time the number has exceeded 2 million. The federal government has struggled to reduce border crossings, and is reluctant to take hardline measures similar to those implemented by the Trump administration.


Associated Press writers Andres Leighton in El Paso, Texas; Anita Snow in Phoenix; Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Josh Boak in Washington contributed to this report.

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