EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – President Biden planned to visit a county migrant assistance center and assess customs operations at the Bridge of the Americas during his visit to El Paso on Sunday, according to the White House.
Air Force One was scheduled to land at El Paso International Airport around 12:30 p.m. carrying Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Democratic House members Veronica Escobar of E Paso, Henry Cuellar of Laredo and Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen, among others.
While in El Paso, “the president will assess enforcement operations at the Bridge of the Americas port of entry” along with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, the White House said. The port recently received $600 million for improvements included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act.
The Bridge of the Americas is one of the busiest ports of entry at the U.S.-Mexico border, particularly when it comes to passenger vehicles.
After a tour of the port, Biden is to visit the El Paso County Migrant Services Center, which is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s emergency food and shelter program. There, Biden will meet with local officials, faith leaders and nongovernment organizations officials who have been involved in providing services to migrants released from federal custody.
The president’s visit to El Paso comes a few days after the White House announced a remote asylum application process for Nicaraguans, Cubans and Haitians similar to one implemented in October for Venezuelan migrants. The program leaves open to expulsion migrants from those countries who cross the border illegally, and could disqualify them from applying for immigration benefits.
That caveat has angered immigration activists, who say the plan restricts asylum from those countries and is really an expansion of the Trump-era Title 42 public health expulsions that Biden decried during his campaign for office but left in place after lawsuits from Republican states. The U.S. Supreme Court last month left Title 42 in place possibly through June as it weighs the Republican states’ arguments.
The tour of the port of entry could be symbolic of Biden’s upcoming meeting with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, where trade will be a trilateral topic of discussion on Tuesday. Biden and Lopez Obrador are scheduled to meet on Monday to talk about immigration and security issues such as drug trafficking, according to Mexican news media.
Politics weight heavy on border trip
Biden comes to El Paso after nearly two years of Republican criticism over his immigration policies they say have encouraged more than 4 million people to cross the border illegally since he took office.
Biden immediately upon taking office moved to end the Trump-era Remain in Mexico (or Migrant Protection Protocols program) and supported congressional Democrats’ push for an immigration reform that included the legalization of millions of undocumented migrants already in the country.
Lawsuits forced the administration to temporarily restore MPP before the Supreme Court allowed him to end it. But the record migration surge of 2022 in October prompted the White House to come up with an asylum program for Venezuelan migrants that activists characterized as a cap that allows the administration to expand the use of Title 42 expulsions on citizens from that South American county. DHS announced a similar program for Haitian, Cubans and Nicaraguans on January 5, which advocates also denounced.
Speaking on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday, U.S. Rep. Escobar said the administration is working with very limited tools on immigration, absent actions from Congress.
“The executive branch is not the only branch of government that needs to do its job,” Escobar said. “I’ve worked very closely with Secretary Mayorkas, he has been phenomenal. […] Where I’ve hit a brick wall is Congress and, frankly, Democrats and Republicans alike. […] House Democrats did pass immigration bills, (but) when we have a 50/50 Senate and no Republicans willing to work with us … I’m hoping things change.”
But in a recent interview on the Fox News Channel, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Biden’s border visit will do nothing to stem illegal immigration.
“All he’s going to do down there is rearrange the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. He’s into going to achieve any solutions that will make the border safer, more secure or to stop illegal immigration,” the Republican governor said.