Biden visits U.S. Mexico border as immigration issue heats up

EL PASO, Texas, Jan 8 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden visited the US-Mexico border on Sunday for the first time since taking office, tackling one of the country’s most politically charged issues and preparing for a re-election bid. .

Accompanied by Border Patrol agents, Biden toured a section of the wall that divides the two countries, a signature priority of his Republican predecessor Donald Trump, in an effort to show he was taking the issue seriously.

Biden said Thursday that his administration would tighten immigration enforcement by blocking Cuban, Haitian and Nicaraguan migrants at the border, expanding the nationalities of those who can be deported back to Mexico.

But that did not sway Republicans such as Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who accused him of failing to enforce immigration laws.

“You have violated your constitutional obligation to protect the State from invasion by faithfully enforcing federal laws,” Abbott, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, wrote in a letter he gave to Biden when he arrived in the state.

Biden told reporters he had not yet read the letter.

Together with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the President also visited the Bridge of the Americas, which connects the United States and Mexico, and looked at equipment used by border officials to detect illegal drugs.

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Biden hopes to strengthen relations with Border Patrol agents, some of whom have opposed the White House’s rollback of hard-line enforcement policies.

Congress’ long-term goal of reforming America’s creaky immigration system is unlikely to succeed given the new Republican control of the US House of Representatives.

Right-wing lawmakers have repeatedly torpedoed US immigration reform proposals over the past two decades.

Biden launched an immigration reform plan to Congress on his first day in office two years ago, but it ran afoul of opposition from Republicans, who also blocked his request for $3.5 billion to beef up border enforcement.

Republicans are pushing their own plans for the border after winning a narrow majority in the House of Representatives in the 2022 midterm elections.

Republican US Representative Jim Jordan told Fox News that Biden should embrace the zero-tolerance policies Trump was pursuing, including separating children from their immigrant parents.

“They’ve now allowed a situation where, frankly, we don’t have a border anymore,” Jordan said.

Mayorkas said Sunday that international crises and legislative gridlock have limited Biden’s ability to reduce the number of immigrants to the United States.

“We’re just dealing with a broken system,” Mayorkas told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Texas.

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El Paso’s Democratic mayor declared a state of emergency last month, citing hundreds of migrants sleeping on the streets in freezing temperatures and thousands being arrested every day.

US border officials apprehended a record 2.2 million migrants at the border with Mexico in the 2022 fiscal year that ended in September, although that number includes individuals who tried to cross multiple times.

‘significantly different’

At the same time as he expanded his authority to deport migrants, Biden on Thursday opened limited routes into the country for Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti – allowing up to 30,000 people from those three countries and Venezuela to go into the country of air every month. .

While drawing praise from some U.S. industry groups desperate to solve a pressing labor shortage, Biden’s moves have drawn criticism from human rights activists and some Democrats who say the new restrictions are a retreat from the president’s 2020 campaign promise to deliver historic rights back for asylum seekers.

Mayorkas rejected the idea that Biden was reviving Trump-era stands.

“It’s not a ban at all,” he said. “It’s very different from what the Trump administration has proposed.”

On the ground in El Paso, migrants greeted the new policy with trepidation.

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David Guillen, 43, asked Biden to pardon him and other Venezuelan migrants who entered the country illegally, many of whom are now sleeping outside a church in El Paso, fearing arrest and deportation them if they try to travel to another city.

“We made a mistake … but not a bad mistake. It’s just that we 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 in talks that will also touch on immigration.

Americans give Biden failing grades on immigration policy, polls show.

The average of polls collected by Real Clear Politics shows that 37% of the public disapproved of Biden’s handling of immigration, a number lower than his overall approval rating.

“Basically we have to fix the system,” Mayorkas told reporters.

Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw and Daina Beth Solomon in El Paso, and Andrea Shalal in Washington; writing by Rafael Satter and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Heather Timmons, Kieran Murray, Bill Berkrot, Paul Simao, Lisa Shumaker and Diane Craft

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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