EL PASO, Texas ( Associated Press) — President Joe Biden drove through 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 in office, a journey that was overshadowed by the tense situation around immigration policy, as Republicans try to blame him for the record number of immigrants 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 drove onto a dusty road lined with abandoned buildings and a small children’s play area. The road had a metal border fence that separates El Paso from Ciudad Juárez in Mexico. Biden walked slowly along the border wall, initially accompanied by two Border Patrol agents.
In a sign of heightened political tensions over immigration, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott handed Biden a letter upon arrival, saying the “chaos” at the border was a “direct result” of the president’s inability to enforce federal laws. Biden later pulled the letter from his jacket pocket during his tour and told reporters: “I haven’t read it yet.”
Asked what he learned from visiting the border firsthand and talking to agents who work there, the president replied: “They require a lot of resources. Let’s get them.”
For years, immigration has been a serious problem, highlighting both the dysfunction of the US system and the turmoil in immigrants’ home countries that has caused many to flee. US government officials have tried to counter criticism from Republicans by saying Congress should work with them to increase funding for border security and reform immigration policy.
Biden plans to spend a few hours in El Paso, Texas, currently the largest corridor for illegal crossings, a situation that is due in large part to Nicaraguan citizens fleeing repression, crime and poverty in their home country. Four nationalities – including Nicaraguan – are now subject to expedited removal under new rules implemented by the Biden administration last week that are drawing strong criticism from migrant advocates.
Biden will also visit the Migrant Services Center in El Paso and meet with non-profit organizations and religious groups that support immigrants. It is not clear whether the president will talk to any expatriates.
Biden’s announcement on border security and his visit to the border are aimed at reducing political hubbub and softening the impact of upcoming immigration probes promised by House Republicans. But any lasting solution will require intervention from Congress, which is increasingly divided and where several attempts to make sweeping changes in recent years have failed.
From El Paso, Biden will travel to Mexico City, where he and the leaders of Mexico and Canada will meet on Monday and Tuesday for a summit. Immigration is one of the items on the agenda.
Migrants and asylum seekers fleeing violence and persecution have come to realize that safety in the United States is primarily available to those who have the money or the ability to find someone to sponsor them financially .
Jose Castillo, a Venezuelan migrant who said he traveled without family for five months from his home on Margarita Island to arrive in El Paso on Dec. 29, said he hoped Biden would “take him into account as human beings.” keep who we are.”
Castillo was among a group of about 30 migrants who gathered for prayer on Sunday outside the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where many of the new arrivals are camped.
“Ever since we entered the Darien jungle and passed through Mexico, we have endured a lot. Everything has been a fight, fight, fight”, said the Venezuelan migrant. He admitted that he knew they were in the United States illegally, but asked that they be given a chance.
The number of immigrants crossing the border into the United States has increased dramatically during Biden’s first two years in office. There were over 2.38 million arrests during the year ended September 30, the first time the number has crossed 2 million. The federal government has struggled to reduce border crossings, and has been reluctant to adopt draconian measures that are similar to those implemented by former President Donald Trump’s administration.
Associated Press writers Andres Leighton in El Paso, Texas, Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Josh Bock in Washington contributed to this report.