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President Biden in El Paso, Texas. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images
Biden lands in El Paso, Texas, for his first-ever tour of the southern border amid growing concerns. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Biden’s first border visit was eclipsed by waning policy, bipartisan criticism

The President had his first tour of the Southern border as migrant concerns over stringent immigration policies heightened.

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On Sunday, Jan. 8, President Joe Biden visited the El Paso southern border for the first time since securing the presidency, and just a month after losing a Supreme Court battle against Republicans over Title 42.

His visit was also politically tricky, having drawn criticism from Republicans and Democrats who believe immigration to be Biden’s main drawback. 

The administration’s tour of the border follows a contentious, two-year battle concerning Title 42, a health order used to block asylum seekers from entering U.S. soil over pandemic concerns, instituted by former Republican President Donald Trump. 

Democrats had hoped to wind down Title 42 provisions to ease access through the border, but a Republican challenge ultimately hindered those efforts. 

In a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling, the nation’s highest court prevented Biden from easing the health order, which critics argue is being used to further restrict asylum seekers under the guise of pandemic concerns in lieu of having no immigration policy.

The administration responded to the ruling, saying they would “comply with the order and prepare for the Court's review” while reassuring continued efforts toward “expanding legal pathways for immigration” in a press release delivered by White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. 

Jean-Pierre’s messaging on immigration — currently positing itself as a central policy concern since Congress failed to reach a consensus in December — is seemingly falling short on both sides of the political aisle. 

Immigration advocates have slammed the administration for failing to meet much-needed public policy, like protecting DACA recipients, who receive temporary work authorizations in two-year intervals. 

Dreamers, as they’re colloquially referred to, are in a constant state of limbo with no end in sight to changing opinions on federal courts and an absence of any policy in Congress. 

Biden has also drawn scrutiny for not strengthening security at the border, a criticism leveled by the GOP and some Democrats.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration announced it would expand Title 42 to include migrants from Nicaragua, Haiti, and Cuba who unlawfully cross the border through Mexico into the U.S.

But to temporarily address the influx of migrants at the border, the U.S. plans to accept up to 30,000 asylum seekers from Nicaragua, Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela each month. 

And if the number of incoming migrants tips over that threshold, immigration officials are poised to process the overage under standard immigration laws, heightening chances of deportation and a five-year ban from entering the U.S. 

Tensions were felt at the border 

Upon arriving in Texas, Biden shook hands with Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a fierce critic of the administration’s approach to border policies, and who said he received an invitation to meet the president the night before touching down. 

Abbott — who reportedly was not invited to tour with the President — said Biden was “two years and about $20 billion too late,” to a pool of reporters at the scene. 

“He needs to step up and take swift action, including reimbursing the state of Texas toward the money we spent but providing more resources for federal government to do its job,” Abbott said. 

“Also, this is nothing but for show, unless he begins to enforce the immigration laws that already exist,” he added. 

Abbott — who created a diversion program to transport incoming migrants to asylum cities — hand-delivered a letter to the president, where he blamed the administration for the situation at the border, calling it a “direct result of your failure to enforce the immigration laws that Congress enacted.”

Biden hadn’t read the letter, according to a pool report on the day of the tour. 

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t for the GOP

In the Rio Grande Valley, GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel held a press conference to criticize the administration for what they deemed “a photo-op in El Paso and pretend that the problem is gone.”

This sentiment has been echoed by other members of the GOP, who routinely lambast the administration for not paying enough attention to the border. 

Embattled House Speaker Kevin McCarthy wrote Biden “is making his first border visit of his life — a photo op — while pushing for amnesty for millions of immigrants who have crossed into the U.S. illegally” in a Twitter post on Sunday. 

 

Republicans had long-urged the administration to pay the border a visit as they contend the influx becomes unmanageable. 

What the administration hoped to achieve

Officials with the presidents said the trip was to “assess border enforcement operations and meet with local elected officials and community leaders who have been important partners in managing the historic number of migrants fleeing political oppression and gang violence.”

According to reporting by the Texas Tribune, the president visited the Bridge of the Americas port of Entry, which connects El Paso to Ciudad Juárez, and is frequented by tourists. 

He was accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Reps Verónica Escobar (D). Henry Cuellar (D), and Vincente González (D), according to the Tribune

“They need a lot of resources. We’re going to get it for them,” Biden said when asked about what he learned during his trip. 

Biden then left for Mexico City to meet Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at his new airport. 

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