EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The mayor showed him a picture book of migrants passing through El Paso. The bishop shared a letter written by a child in a Juarez, Mexico, shelter, seeking to reunite with her mother and brother in the United States.
President Joe Biden looked and read, but those who showed and told said he already knew.
“People are talking that it was about time the president came down, but the president knows what is going on in El Paso, what the challenges are. But it’s true; it’s never too late once you see with your own eyes,” Leeser said. “He knew the answers before he asked the questions.”
That was the impression Sunday’s visit by Biden to the border left on El Paso leaders.
Biden spent four hours in the city touching base with those entrusted with making sure international commerce flows smoothly, with border agents stretched thin by pulling the double duty of patrolling the border and caring for migrants at processing centers, and spending time with local government and nonprofit organization leaders managing the historic surge of migration of the past year.
Biden made no pronouncements during the visit but mostly listened and asked questions. He spent nearly an hour at the Bridge of the Americas, one of the busiest ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border and symbolic of the friendship, family and business ties between the two countries.
He made an unannounced stop at the border wall by Paisano Drive in West El Paso where he and top Homeland Security leaders met with local Border Patrol leadership.
In a briefing after Air Force One took off from El Paso International Airport on Sunday afternoon on its way to Mexico City, U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, agreed that Biden wanted to engage.
“He spent time speaking with migrant processing center employees. He mentioned Sacred Heart church,” Escobar said about the South El Paso Catholic parish where hundreds of Venezuelan migrants have sought sanctuary from deportation. “He has seen the videos, the photographs.”
El Paso in early October and mid-December became the epicenter of the nation’s migration crisis. In late fall, the city spent millions of dollars busing thousands out of town to their destination of choice. Last month, with processing centers filled to four times capacity, thousands of paroled foreign nationals were released on city streets in bitterly cold weather.
But the number of migrants coming across the border has been falling since the Supreme Court two weeks ago put off the end of Title 42 public health expulsions possibly through June. The arrival of Texas Army National Guard troops who set up barbwire and temporary fencing by the Rio Grande with military vehicles in plain view has all but shut down a once-popular Downtown El Paso migrant corridor.
The troops – and several shipping containers placed on the U.S. bank of the river – are part of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star. Abbott was in El Paso Sunday to welcome Biden with a letter demanding he enforce U.S. immigration laws and later telling the press the president was two years and $20 million in aid to local communities late in coming to the border.
Escobar, who flew in with Biden aboard Air Force One, said the governor was polite in handing over the letter to Biden. But the three-term Democratic House member and the Republican Texas governor agreed to disagree on how to deal with a border crisis now entering its fourth year.
“He (Abbott) was nice as could be to the president. He welcomed him to the state and said he wanted to work with him and handed him a letter and he said there were solutions in the letter,” Escobar said. “I welcomed Abbott to my community, told him I would like to work together and asked him as a Texan to utilize our resources” in wise ways.
The two politicos sparred about migrants’ rights, with Abbott saying those who come in illegally should face consequences, and Escobar stating that requesting asylum is legal and that if people aren’t allowed to approach ports of entry for this purpose, they have little choices left.
Escobar at her news conference accused Abbott of politicizing illegal immigration and using it as a platform for fundraising and in anticipation of a possible presidential run.
The governor said on social media that he was merely calling on Biden to “do his constitutional duty” to protect the nation.
Next for Biden: Persuading Mexico to do more on drugs and migration
Escobar said she was glad Biden spent time at the Bridge of the Americas and received a briefing on how customs officers try to stop fentanyl from coming into the country. “It doesn’t come in on backpacks carried by poor migrants, but in ports of entry in vehicles frequently driven by American citizens,” she said.
After his trip to El Paso, Biden flew to Mexico City, where he will meet with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Monday and with Lopez Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday. Each meeting is likely to have repercussions on the U.S.-Mexico border.
According to a schedule of the summit released by Mexico, Biden and Lopez Obrador will converse on Monday evening. The meeting is likely to focus on migration and stemming the flow of fentanyl to the U.S., according to Mexican news media. The Tuesday meeting that will include Trudeau is likely centered on trade.
The Biden administration recently enacted a plan to place Haitians, Cubans and Nicaraguans on the same remote asylum application process Venezuelans have been on since October. It requires them to have American sponsors and disqualifies those who cross the border illegally from obtaining future immigration benefits. The plan allows up to 30,000 citizens of those countries to come in on parole every month, but relies on Mexico to take in a similar number who get expelled.
Lopez Obrador has been pushing for a massive temporary visa plan for Mexican citizens, who have been subjected to Title 42 expulsions since the Trump administration came up with that rule in 2020.
Biden is also under pressure at home to curtail the opioid overdose crisis that last year claimed the life of 107,000 Americans. According to U.S. drug experts, fentanyl is mass-produced in clandestine facilities in Jalisco and Michoacan in the west, and Sinaloa and Mexico City.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection last year seized 30 percent more fentanyl at the border than in 2021.
Security experts tell Border Report the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation Cartels are the main exporters of fentanyl to the U.S. Mexico last week captured Ovidio Guzman, the son of jailed Sinaloa cartel drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. However, Guzman’s other son, Ivan Archivaldo, as well as Sinaloa cartel patriarch Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, and Jalisco New Generation Cartel kingpin Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, aka “El Mencho,” remain at large.