When President Biden stepped off Air Force One in El Paso on Sunday to tour the US border, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was waiting on the tarmac.
After greeting the President, the combative Republican Governor handed Biden a strongly worded letter criticizing him for pushing an “open borders policy” and demanding that he build what former President Trump had promised but never did complete border wall again.
It was the latest round of political theater for Abbott, who has dubbed the stream of asylum seekers arriving at the southern border an “invasion,” and who has spent millions of taxpayer dollars in recent months to house recently arrived migrants in Democratic Party-run countries Cities to bring east coast.
It also underscored the fundamental challenges facing Biden, whose recent efforts to manage an historic surge in migration have angered not only Republicans but also some members of his own party and human rights defenders.
After announcing last week that he would expand a Trump policy giving border officials the power to swiftly turn back asylum seekers, Biden was criticized in a joint statement by several Democratic senators for calling “migrants fleeing persecution and torture , stuck in countries they cannot protect. ”
When Biden met with immigration officials and humanitarian workers in El Paso Sunday, walked a section of the border fence and toured a welcome center for newly released migrants, one thing was clear: On an issue as persistent as immigration that has been around for decades, politicians are angry on both sides of the political spectrum, there are no easy solutions.
Tensions have flared in recent months as a record number of cross-border workers have arrived from Latin America, where political instability and the economic devastation of the COVID pandemic have caused millions to flee their homes.
Tens of thousands have arrived in and around El Paso, many illegally crossing the border on foot and seeking asylum.
While migrants from Mexico, Central America and elsewhere have been swiftly deported under Title 42, a Trump-invoked rule that allows the government to keep foreigners out during a public health emergency, until recently it was migrants from crisis-hit countries like Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela are allowed into the US, given temporary work permits and granting asylum interviews.
Here in El Paso, shelters are overcrowded and migrants sleep on the streets. Last month, as temperatures plummeted below freezing, Democratic Mayor Oscar Leeser declared a state of emergency.
Days before arriving here, Biden announced new guidelines that he promised would “significantly reduce” the number of people trying to cross the border to ease the pressure on cities like this one.
Under new guidelines announced Thursday, Cubans, Nicaraguans and Haitians who enter the country illegally will be immediately deported to Mexico — without their asylum claims being heard.
It’s an extension of a Biden policy enacted late last year targeting Venezuelans, who at the time made up the majority of asylum seekers crossing the border.
The Biden administration says the policy has reduced the number of Venezuelans crossing the southwestern border without permits from an average of 1,100 a day to about 100 a day.
At the same time, Biden announced a new route of legal entry for people from the four countries, saying up to 30,000 of them would be allowed to enter the US each month if they applied via an online application from their home country, a US found -based sponsor and passed a rigorous background check.
The government says the two-pronged approach will deter migrants from making a dangerous journey to the US border.
But it also arrests tens of thousands of people who have already fled their countries and made the perilous journey to the United States. Many of them are stuck in towns like Juarez across the El Paso border. Others have wormed their way into the United States, evading immigration officials.
In downtown El Paso, hundreds of second-category migrants have camped out in front of a red-brick Catholic church called Sacred Heart. They fear that they will be arrested and deported by the immigration authorities when they leave the church grounds.
“If I had known they were going to close the doors, I would not have left my county,” said Lisbeth Leon, 47, a Venezuelan who started her long trip to the United States in September after hearing that a large number of Venezuelans there were let in.
“My children call me a warrior,” she said. “I’m afraid they’ll send me back after crossing nine countries to get here.”
Leon and others have been struck by the kindness of strangers who have donated food and clothing and even offered free haircuts.
It’s a sign of how much the US has to offer, they said.
“I’ve never had so many clothes in my entire life,” said Eduardo Tapia, 28, a gay man who travels with his boyfriend. Back in Venezuela, Tapia said, “I was so hungry that sometimes I ate banana peels.”
Jose Ibarra, who owns a carpentry shop in Albuquerque, four hours away, had come to the camp to see if he could help.
He said he has friends in the construction industry in New Mexico who were desperate for workers.
“I could easily place about 20 people with one job,” Ibarra said. “But the question is how do we get them out of here.”
Biden’s border tour didn’t take him through the section of downtown El Paso where most migrants have been staying. He stopped to walk along an 18-foot section of chain link fence through which the houses of Juarez were visible.
The one thing everyone he encountered seemed to agree on was that more resources were needed.
He learned this from meetings with border officials and from humanitarian workers.
“If I could wave the magic wand, what would I do?” Biden asked an employee at the El Paso County Migrant Services Center, which provides food and clothing to migrants released by the Border Patrol. The answer was more money.
Biden left El Paso Sunday night and headed to Mexico City for a two-day summit with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2023-01-08/biden-visits-border Under attack from both Republicans and Democrats, Biden tours border