Biden visits US-Mexico border as immigration problem worsens By Reuters
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©Reuters. Santiago, an 8-year-old migrant boy from Colombia who is traveling with his family seeking asylum in the United States, carries a Spider-Man doll as he attempts to cross barbed wire placed by the Texas National Guard on the border between the 2nd/5th
By Jarrett Renshaw and Andrea Shalal
EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) – President Joe Biden visited the US-Mexico border for the first time since taking office on Sunday, addressing one of the country’s most politically sensitive issues as he prepares for re-election.
His visit was not expected to lead to new policies, but rather to demonstrate that he takes the issue seriously and strengthen ties with border patrol officials, some of whom are reluctant to roll back the White House’s tough enforcement policy.
Biden on Thursday announced his administration’s plan to block migrants from Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua at the border and expand the nationalities of those who can be deported back to Mexico.
The long-term goal of Congress reforming America’s creaking immigration system is unlikely to materialize given Republicans’ newly assumed control of the US House of Representatives.
Right-wing lawmakers have repeatedly torpedoed proposals to reform US immigration policy over the past two decades.
Biden submitted an immigration reform plan to Congress on his first day in office two years ago, but it was thwarted by opposition from Republicans, who also blocked his demand for $3.5 billion to strengthen border enforcement.
Republicans are pushing ahead with their own border plans after midterm elections, in which they won a narrow majority in the House of Representatives.
Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott met Biden in El Paso and handed him a letter outlining five steps to address the border crisis — including illegally detaining millions of people across the United States.
Republican US Representative Jim Jordan told Fox News on Sunday his party can help Democrats — but only if Biden takes over from former President Donald Trump’s enforcement policies. These policies included separating children from their migrant parents as part of a “zero tolerance” approach to deterring illegal immigration.
“They have now allowed for a situation where, frankly, we no longer have a boundary,” Jordan said.
Biden is expected to join Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in El Paso to meet with congressmen, local officials and community leaders.
Mayorkas said Sunday that two of the key elements leading to an increased number of migrants heading to the United States — international crises and a legislative standstill — are beyond the president’s control.
“We’re just dealing with a broken system,” Mayorkas told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Texas.
The White House said Biden will evaluate border security measures in El Paso, where the Democratic mayor declared a state of emergency last month, citing hundreds of migrants sleeping on the streets in cold temperatures and thousands being arrested every day.
U.S. border officials detained a record 2.2 million migrants at the border with Mexico in fiscal year 2022, which ended in September, although that number includes people who have attempted to cross the border multiple times.
At the same time he was expanding his powers to expel migrants, Biden on Thursday opened legal, limited routes into the country for Cubans, Nicaraguans and Haitians — allowing up to 30,000 people from those three countries, plus Venezuela, each month by air to enter the country.
While Biden’s moves have been praised by some US industry groups desperate to solve pressing labor shortages, they have also been criticized by human rights activists and some Democrats, who say the new restrictions are a pullback from the president’s 2020 campaign promise to grant asylum-seekers historic rights to restore.
Mayorkas dismissed the idea that Biden would revive the Trump-era crackdown.
“It’s not a ban at all,” he said. “It’s significantly different than what the Trump administration has proposed.”
Locally in El Paso, migrants welcomed the new policy with trepidation.
David Guillen, 43, asked Biden to forgive him and other Venezuelan migrants who entered the country illegally, many of whom are now sleeping outside a church in El Paso for fear of being arrested and deported if they try to get in to travel another city.
“We made a mistake… but not a bad mistake. We just want a better life,” he said.
After the El Paso visit, Biden is scheduled to travel south of the border to meet with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for talks that will include immigration.
Polls show Americans give Biden low marks on immigration policy.
An average of polls collected by Real Clear Politics shows that 37% of the public disapprove of Biden’s handling of immigration, a figure lower than his overall approval rating.
“Basically, we need to fix the system,” Mayorkas told reporters.