Bloomberg — President Joe Biden will confront one of his biggest political liabilities head-on Sunday, as he pays a visit to the US border with Mexico in El Paso, Texas.
Biden will see first-hand conditions for migrants and the US officials who process them as they cross from Mexico. He’s facing calls from Democrats and Republicans to more quickly process cases, resettle lawful claimants and deport people deemed ineligible.
Since Biden entered the White House, the US has seen an increase in migration from Latin America — one he attributes to a range of factors, including people fleeing dictatorial and socialist regimes to seek a better life in the US, but which his critics say is fueled by his rejection of hard-line measures to flatly stop crossings.
Congress has balked at immigration reform or major new funding, leaving Biden few options. The US continues to employ pandemic-era border controls known as Title 42 to quickly expel migrants. The president acknowledged there is no easy fix on Thursday as he announced new measures to address the border situation.
“Our problems at the border didn’t arise overnight and they’re not going to be solved overnight. It’s a difficult problem,” Biden said. But he also lashed out at Republicans for what he called “inflammatory” talk about migration and urged them to work across the aisle to approve immigration legislation and additional border-security funds.
“Immigration reform used to be a bipartisan issue. We can make it that way again. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s economically a smart thing to do,” Biden said. “It’s so easy to demagogue this issue.”
Biden’s visit comes as Congress prepares to probe the situation at the border. The election of Kevin McCarthy as House Speaker early Saturday — after 15 votes where hard-line conservatives flexed their political muscle to extract concessions — will set in motion a series of Republican-led investigations, with the border situation among the most high-profile.
Biden is visiting El Paso on his way to Mexico City, where he will meet Monday and Tuesday with the leaders of Canada and Mexico at the North American Leaders’ Summit, commonly called the “Three Amigos” gathering.
Biden teed up the summit by announcing on Thursday a deal with Mexico under which the US will expand a humanitarian program to allow up to 30,000 additional migrants per month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela.
The changes expand on an October initiative that allowed qualifying Venezuelans to enter the US by air if they applied abroad, could point to someone in the US who would provide financial support, and passed national security, public safety and health screenings.
But as part of the arrangement, the administration will stop offering asylum to migrants from those four countries who try to cross into the US without authorization. In an agreement with Mexico’s government to accompany the new parole program, more migrants from the four countries will be refused entry and returned to Mexico.
The American Civil Liberties Union said Biden’s announcement “further ties his administration to the poisonous anti-immigrant policies of the Trump era instead of restoring fair access to asylum protections.”
Biden and former President Donald Trump have used Title 42 restrictions to expel migrants more than 2 million times since early 2020.
Biden has grappled with how to deal with the border throughout his administration, including by trying to quell the unrest that fuels migration. In 2021, he appointed Vice President Kamala Harris as a point person to address the economic and social conditions driving migration from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Congress has balked at any meaningful new funding or reform, though, leaving Biden — who sent a suggested immigration bill to Congress on the day he was sworn in — with scant room to overhaul an already overwhelmed system except through executive measures.
“It’s a complicated issue. I don’t want to pretend there’s anything easy about it,” Biden said Thursday.
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