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Anna Karamazina

26.11.2022 15:00

Biden makes his first presidential trip to the heavily guarded southern border

President Joe Biden has made his first trip to the US-Mexico border as president. Despite visiting a migrant respite facility, he did not appear to encounter or interact with any migrants.

In response to mounting complaints and criticism that he had not yet witnessed the catastrophe brought on by the unprecedented number of migrants making the perilous route to the border, Biden spent some time in El Paso. But it seems like the focus of that short trip was mostly on talking with border patrol agents and discussing enforcement-related matters. Neither during the president's visit to the respite center nor throughout the afternoon's motorcade routes were any migrants visible to reporters on the ground.

A senior administration official responded to CNN's question about why Biden visited this particular location but did not meet or converse with any migrants there by saying, “There just weren’t any at the center when he arrived. Completely coincidental. They haven’t had any today.”

The timing of Biden's trip coincided with a sharp decline in border crossings in El Paso. Nevertheless, hundreds of migrants, including children, were living on the streets after entering the country through El Paso.  According to the City of El Paso's migrant dashboard, there were also close to 1,000 extra migrants in federal custody at detention facilities.

Republicans who felt the trip was overdue offered repeated appeals to make the trip. Biden has come under fire from Republicans as well as a few border-district Democrats in Congress and even Democratic mayors for neglecting to address the record number of border crossings.

The president's convoy arrived and proceeded down a road that ran parallel to the Rio Grande and the border. As the motorcade went down the roadway, on the left was an iron fence with barbed wire at the top. After a brief halt, Biden chatted with officers wearing green uniforms while standing for a while alongside the iron barrier dividing the US from Mexico. The party then proceeded to stroll alongside the fence's adjacent dirt road. When asked a few questions by reporters, Biden replied that the government will supply all the resources needed at the border.

Then he went to a facility that processed migrants, although he didn't appear to meet any migrants there. Instead, he spoke with many different facility employees about the job that was being done there.

Biden shook hands with everyone there and engaged in private conversation, which reporters were unable to hear. Then Biden saw the packs handed to migrants that included socks, toothpaste, and soap. When asking what the facility would need if he could wave a magic wand to aid the groups, the answer seemed to be funds.

A political weakness

After urging Congress to reform the US immigration system to fit current demands, Biden made a point of addressing a problem that has been a political liability for his administration during his visit to El Paso.

But the administration's collection of border management policies has sometimes placed Biden at odds with his own supporters, who claim that the administration's strategy relies too much on enforcement.

In response to the most recent policy statements, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus told CNN that it was enraging and sad to watch a Democratic administration making it tougher for vulnerable individuals to seek refuge all because they're terrified of furious MAGA voters on this subject.

Texan politicians meet Biden at the border

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a steadfast opponent of Biden and his administration for the government approach to migration on the US southern border, met the president as he was taking off. The Republican governor acknowledged to reporters that he wrote Biden a letter explaining the border situation, which he referred to as being in "chaos."

In the letter, which the governor's office has posted online, Abbott reiterates his earlier objections, calls on Biden to visit other border towns, and offers five recommendations for the Biden administration. The White House has been contacted by CNN for comment on the letter. According to Biden, he hasn't read the letter yet.

Escobar, a representative for El Paso, maintained that Biden's trip to the city would not just be an excuse for the president to pose for pictures.

She stated in an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation" that they worked with the White House to make sure that all the people who are actually doing the job on the ground day-to-day are the ones that the president would meet with. “He needs to hear about how over time, the challenges that we have faced as a country on immigration, on border issues, have grown exponentially.”

She attributed the increase in border crossings to the Trump administration's Title 42 public health regulation. The ban enables the federal government to easily deport immigrants while blaming the Covid-19 outbreak.

Escobar anticipated that the government would ultimately move toward the harsh Title 8, which enables US authorities to process and expel migrants who do not have a legal basis to be in the country, based on her talks with Department of Homeland Security officials.

As the official commented, all of these executive branch initiatives are basically just stopgap fixes, and  Congress must take action, whether it is in response to Title 8 or Title 42.

A pressing issue

Biden has faced a pressing challenge as a result of the widespread migration across the Western Hemisphere. During his first few months in office, he dealt with a surge of unaccompanied migrant children at the border as well as the sudden arrival of thousands of Haitian migrants.

According to figures from US Customs and Border Protection, there have been more over 2.4 million arrests along the US-Mexico border since 2021. That includes individuals who have repeatedly attempted to cross. Additionally, many have been denied entry due to Title 42.

The influx of thousands of migrants has put a burden on border towns like El Paso. Although the city has always taken pride in being a friendly destination for immigrants, the unexpected rush of thousands of newcomers has overloaded municipal resources and prompted appeals for federal aid.

Thousands of migrants have turned themselves in to border police or entered the country illegally in recent weeks due to anxiety over the expected termination of Title 42.  Last month, the policy was supposed to end, but a Supreme Court decision extended its duration while legal challenges are being resolved.

According to federal statistics provided to CNN, the number of migrants passing through El Paso has substantially decreased since December, when hundreds were doing so every day.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, there have been less than 700 daily interactions on average during the past several days, down from roughly 2,500 at its height in December.

In December, according to DHS, 100 more employees were sent to the El Paso area, and this month, a new temporary facility for the processing of migrants will be opened. According to DHS, fewer migrants are using the shelters in Juarez, Mexico, which is just over the border from El Paso.

Prior to going to the border, Biden stated that he wanted to wait until he knew how the Title 42 legal procedures would turn out. He also blamed Republicans who wanted him to go there for playing political games.  They haven't taken this seriously at all, he claimed.

Center of the discussion

Since the Trump administration implemented the divisive family separation policy in the area and brought it to El Paso, the city has been at the focus of the immigration discussion.

Biden has criticized the immigration practices of the Trump administration, but his own government has struggled to find a compromise between enforcement and fulfilling its humanitarian claims.

As the government works to stop the tide of mass migration in the hemisphere, Biden is confronted in El Paso with both the legacy of his predecessor and the difficulties he faces.

In terms of migrant arrests, the El Paso region has recently overtaken the Rio Grande Valley region. One of the busiest sectors for border crossings historically has been RGV. The 268 miles of the international border is what the El Paso sector monitors.  According to the most recent data from US Customs and Border Protection, border agents in the El Paso sector encountered more than 53,000 migrants in November.

Following the example of Republican governors, El Paso, whose mayor Leeser is a Democrat, started sending migrant buses to New York City last year in an effort to transport migrants to their destinations and relieve congestion in the city. Since then, the endeavor has ended.

Biden tries out a different strategy

The administration also disclosed intentions to broaden the policy to encompass Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Cubans while it is still in effect prior to Biden's border visit. Up until now, most migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Venezuela have been covered under Title 42.

The statements made by Biden are a reflection of the administration's efforts to set up programs to deal with the boom in immigration that has occurred in tandem with the anticipated repeal of Title 42 and to get ready for its demise.

Under a humanitarian parole program targeted at people from Nicaragua, Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela, the government will now take in up to 30,000 migrants from those countries each month. People who don't enter the country through that scheme risk being sent back to Mexico under Title 42.

Democrats and immigrant groups who believe the rules will endanger individuals who are looking for asylum criticized the decision.

According to Dylan Corbett, executive director of Hope Border Institute, the extension of Title 42 to cover Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans is a failed promise.  The Hope Border Institute has been helping newly arriving migrants in El Paso.

He said that border communities would continue to work hard to pick up the broken pieces of the country's immigration system and demonstrate that the future belongs not with expulsion and deportation, but with humanity and hope.

In a recent call, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus challenged senior Biden officials over the recently announced border policy, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was among them.

According to the sources, members were disappointed by the lack of involvement before the introduction of the new policies and were astonished by the new policies.

One insider described the situation as "heated," adding that the members were "furious" that the administration had not consulted them beforehand. On the conversation were representatives from the White House and the Department of Homeland Security.

A new asylum guideline that might prevent migrants from requesting asylum in the United States if they traveled through another nation on route to the US-Mexico border was one of the causes of stress during the call. Although authorities have disputed the connection and highlighted attempts to increase access to legitimate entry points into the US, the restrictions are similar to limitations implemented during the Trump administration.

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