EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – President Biden will find a slightly less-chaotic border when he visits El Paso on Sunday, as illegal immigration has plummeted in the past two weeks and processing centers are now holding less than 1,000 people.
According to the City of El Paso’s Migrant Dashboard, border agents on Thursday were reporting 813 daily migrant apprehensions and the population at their processing centers at 999. That compares to more than 2,400 encounters and up to 5,039 migrants in custody in mid-December.
Federal officials attribute that to several factors, primarily the Supreme Court allowing Title 42 expulsions to continue possibly through June and that discouraging would-be crossers, cold winter weather and the arrival of Texas Army National Guard troops and military vehicles to the banks of the Rio Grande.
Still, border agents are stretched thin, local nonprofits still have their hands full assisting migrants and officials from both sides of the political aisle know that migrant flows can turn on a dime at any time.
“As the situation continues to evolve, I am grateful that President Biden has accepted my invitation to El Paso,” U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, said on Thursday. “[…] El Paso has been the epicenter of this humanitarian crisis. We are feeling the effects of decades of failed and outdated immigration policies.
“I am proud to have President Biden join us at our nation’s front door to witness firsthand the depth of what we’re facing and the tremendous collaboration and goodwill of El Pasoans as we continue to ask our Republican colleagues to work with us on true solutions.”
But Bob Pena, executive director of the Republican Party of El Paso County, said Biden should have visited the border at the height of the crisis and gone straight to spots along the Rio Grande where migrants were crossing the river by the hundreds every day and spending nights huddled to protect themselves from the cold.
Sunday’s visit “is nothing more than a photo op for him,” Pena said. “He should go see the suffering along the river, he should talk to Border Patrol agents who will tell him to put back ‘Remain in Mexico.’ It’s not about ‘managing’ the crisis; it’s about stopping it from happening. Tell the people, ‘No, you’re not going to get in, don’t take these terrible trips’ that expose them to so many bad things.”
El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser said he welcomes Biden’s visit.
“While President Biden is fully aware of the challenges we have been facing, it is always helpful to see things with your own eyes and we greatly appreciate him taking the time to visit El Paso and see for himself not only what we are faced with, but also the incredible collaboration among all our partners on this issue,” Leeser said in a statement.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he is glad Biden decided to make his first trip to the border since taking office. But he warned that “his visit can’t be a check-the-box photo op.”
“He must make time to learn from the experts, including local officials and law enforcement, landowners, nonprofits, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s officers and agents, and folks who make their livelihoods in border communities on the front lines of his (Biden’s) crisis,” Cornyn said.
As of Thursday afternoon, the White House had not disclosed how long Biden would be in El Paso for and what he will do here. Biden is scheduled to meet with the president of Mexico and the Canadian prime minister next week in Mexico City. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador earlier this week said trade would be foremost in the talks, but other topics would be discussed.
Lopez Obrador has been pushing for a visa program for hundreds of thousands of Mexicans to go to the U.S., while Biden wanted Mexico to absorb more returned migrants from third countries.
Migrant advocates turn against Biden cap on asylum
Biden on Thursday announced a new remote asylum application plan he hopes will discourage irregular migration from Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti. The plan bears similarities with one effected in October for Venezuelans who were crossing the Rio Grande by the thousands. The plan designates as eligible for expulsion citizens from those countries that cross the U.S. border illegally.
Several pro-immigration nonprofits quickly assailed the new Biden plan.
“President Biden ran on a pro-immigrant platform consistent with our values,” said Vanessa Cardenas, executive director of Washington, D.C.-based America’s Voice. “We welcome his engagement on this issue […] but the rest of what we know of this new policy announcement gets it wrong. Slamming the door to more asylum seekers while cracking open a few windows is not the answer or an appropriate balance.”
The group objects to the administration’s continued reliance on Title 42 expulsions on public health grounds and other devices that put asylum out of reach for others.
“We are deeply disappointed at Biden’s shameful expansion of (former President) Trump’s Title 42 policy,” said Layla Razavi, interim executive director of Freedom for Immigrants. “The Biden administration should be working to restore and strengthen our asylum system, not eroding what has been a vital lifeline for so many of our communities.”
El Paso-based organizations also denounced the president’s initiative.
“With this new border strategy, the Biden administration puts politics before human lives,” said Marisa Limon Garza, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. “As a deterrence approach, Title 42 is a failure. It has only encouraged migrants to cross repeatedly and in increasingly remote and dangerous areas. Through this policy, migrants’ lives and wellbeing are at risk through kidnapping, smuggling, labor trafficking, and other human rights violations.”
Border Network for Human Rights plans to hold a Saturday march through South El Paso to promote the city as “Our new Ellis Island.”
“Opening a small window for a few refugees and asylum seekers while slamming the door on most is neither ethical nor the solution to the current situation at the border,” said Fernando Garcia, BNHR’s executive director. “It is absurd that the Biden administration would resort to resolving the complex asylum crisis and broken immigration system through an online application, which is an impractical way to measure an individual’s credible fears and experiences.
“This is an ineffective strategy that will further build chaos and confusion at the border, do little to resolve the immigration system, and stamp on our American values of a welcoming country.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center warned the new policy is racially discriminatory.
“Seeking asylum is legal, no matter how someone arrives in the country and regardless of whether someone has a U.S.-based financial sponsor,” said Efren C. Olivares, deputy director of the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project. “These changes will directly harm mostly Black and brown migrants, both at the border — where they will be stuck in Mexico, vulnerable to extortion, kidnapping and violence — and in countries like Cuba and Haiti, where people will increasingly take to the seas and risk death to seek safety.”