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Biden avoids looking closely at the border crisis after a brief visit to El Paso | International

It was a breath. More than a visit, Joe Biden’s visit to the border has been a stopover on his trip to Mexico City. The president has set foot on El Paso this Sunday for four hours. It is the first time in his presidency that he has set foot in a city on the complex line that divides the United States and Mexico. The region has had continuous journalistic coverage in the two years that Biden has been in the White House. Especially by the right-wing media, who have described the historic immigration figures left by 2022 as an “invasion”, with more than two million encounters by immigration authorities, a flow driven mainly by people from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti. Biden chose a progressive oasis in very conservative Texas to witness one of the main challenges of his Administration.

Biden made landfall in this city after 12:00. Minutes later, it was the Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, who was in charge of setting the tone with which the opposition has taken the president’s trip. “Your visit to the southern border comes 20,000 million dollars later and two years late,” say the first words of a letter that Abbott delivered to Biden at the foot of Air Force One. “Your visit avoids the points where the main crossings occur of illegal immigration and dodges the thousands of Texas landowners whose lives have been destroyed by his immigration policy,” the letter continues. In the morning, the governor accused Biden of helping undocumented immigrants instead of stopping them. “They are not interested in stopping illegal immigration,” he complains.

The president landed in a sleepy city where many were unaware of his presence. Zenia, 26, a manager of a clothing store in downtown El Paso, was unaware of the visit. What has not gone unnoticed by her is the increase in immigrants who have arrived in town in recent weeks. The peak was registered in December, with more than 2,000 people a day, compared to about 700 now, according to the Department of Homeland Security. But the saleswoman, who speaks in Spanish, does not share the message that appears in some media that the situation is chaos. “The people who come are very respectful. We have not had any problems with them. Sometimes they come to ask for work or some money for their tickets, they ask where the bus station is”, says Zenia.

President Biden, escorted by Secret Service agents, visits the El Paso, Texas border.
President Biden, escorted by Secret Service agents, visits the El Paso, Texas border.KEVIN LAMARQUE (REUTERS)

Biden is unlikely to have taken with him the image of “chaos,” which in El Paso can be seen on some downtown streets and Catholic churches. The entourage avoided this area of ​​the city and focused on a quick visit to a federally funded immigration processing center. There he spoke with some civic organizations and religious leaders who help feed the thousands of hungry mouths that come to the US every day.

Abbott told Fox News that the president arrived in a “sanitized” version of the city, where Democratic mayor Oscar Leeser had ordered migrant camps moved so they would not be in view of the presidential motorcade. In mid-December, Leeser was forced to declare a state of emergency for seven days to obtain extraordinary resources and thus manage the “incredible” influx of immigrants, who arrived in the United States in what was believed to be the last hours of life of Title 42. Washington warned that up to 6,000 people would enter each day on those dates.

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The Bridge of the Americas, the busiest customs office in El Paso, was Biden’s first stop. The president met there with agents from the Office of Customs and Border Protection. He saw a police dog sniff a vehicle for weapons and drugs and searched a truck equipped for border surveillance. The Government calculates that 10% of the revisions of the more than 3,000 kilometers of common border are made at this point of entry. Last year, more than 300 weapons and 21 tons of narcotics were seized in this region. The Administration has allocated 600 million dollars to this bridge, as part of the infrastructure plan, to expand its capacity for commercial and security processes.

A scene from this Sunday in the Church of the Sacred Heart, where South American migrants live on the street.
A scene from this Sunday in the Church of the Sacred Heart, where South American migrants live on the street.Andrew Leighton (AP)

Alejandro Mayorkas, the Secretary of Internal Security, said during the visit that a tent will be set up next to the bridge on Tuesday where up to 1,000 migrants a day can be processed. The official has also said that 100 more agents have been hired to reinforce the Border Patrol.

This checkpoint was visited by Barack Obama in May 2011, in what was also the Democratic president’s first visit to the border. This occurred three years and four months since he arrived at the White House. Biden served as vice president in that Administration, which would deport immigrants in record numbers during its eight years. Donald Trump was much faster in preparing his first visit to the strip. He chose the then Republican stronghold of Arizona, where he spent less than two hours in Yuma County. There he visited a military barracks in August 2017, eight months after assuming power. In total, Trump made five visits to the border in four years, a territory that was one of the obsessions of his period.

Biden has had to resort to Trump’s measures to manage the flow that reaches the border. Especially Title 42, imposed by the former president during the pandemic and that the judiciary has forced the Executive to maintain for the moment. This allows many of those who arrive to return quickly, who generally try the crossing again a few days later. Since last September, Title 42 has been used to remove about 200,000 people.

On Thursday, the White House announced a new strategy for living under the cloak of Title 42 as the Administration prepares for its eventual end, which may come later this year. This contemplates toughening the punishment for immigrants who arrive without notice at the ports of entry of the United States, who will be prohibited from entering for five years. Biden also announced that he will allow the entry of 30,000 citizens a month from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti as long as those interested start an online asylum process before arriving and show that someone on US soil is willing to sponsor them. “We are trying to incentivize people to show up at ports of entry with an appointment instead of trying to get through customs,” Mayorkas said.

Several Democratic sectors have rejected the announced measures, considering that they punish people who are fleeing authoritarian regimes and who arrive in the United States asking for asylum. On Saturday, hours before Biden landed, a protest of 300 migrants was held who rejected the continuation of the sanitary measure with cardboard. But Biden stayed away from that epicenter of the humanitarian crisis. A few hours after touching down, he returned to his plane and took off for the Mexican capital without seeing the city’s ground zero or having spoken to someone who had made the trip north.

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