Amid ongoing calls for the United States government to do more to stop illegal immigration via Mexico, U.S. President Joe Biden on Sunday visited the Mexico-U.S. border for the first time since he took office in January 2021.
Biden visited El Paso, Texas, where alongside Border Patrol agents he toured a section of the wall that divides the United States and Mexico.
According to a Reuters news agency report, the president’s visit to the wall was an effort to show he was taking the illegal immigration issue seriously.
His trip to El Paso came after U.S. border officials apprehended a record 2.2 million migrants at the border in U.S. fiscal year 2022, which ended in September. That figure includes individuals who attempted to enter the U.S. between official ports of entry on multiple occasions.
El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser, a Democrat, declared a state of emergency last month due to the high number of migrants sleeping on the street in the border city, and the thousands of border-crossers being detained on a daily basis.
The Biden administration last Thursday announced a set of measures to enhance security and reduce unauthorized migration at the United States’ southern border.
The new plan, detailed in a White House fact sheet, includes increased border and immigration personnel, media campaigns to counter smuggler misinformation and increased support to Mexico and Central American countries to address the humanitarian needs of refugees. It also includes a commitment by Mexico to accept as many as 30,000 Venezuelan, Nicaraguan, Haitian and Cuban expelled asylum seekers per month.
In addition to touring a section of the border wall, Biden on Sunday visited the Bridge of the Americas, which links El Paso to Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. Accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the president inspected equipment used by border officials to detect illegal drugs.
His visit to the Texan city came occurred a prolonged clash with Republicans over border policy and alleged failure to enforce existing laws. Texas Governor Greg Abbott is one of the president’s fiercest and most outspoken critics on immigration, and presented a strongly-worded letter to Biden upon his arrival in the Lone Star State.
“You have violated your constitutional obligation to defend the States against invasion through faithful execution of federal laws,” wrote Abbott, who has bused migrants out of Texas, and said last November that he had “invoked the invasion clauses of the U.S. and Texas constitutions to fully authorize Texas to take unprecedented measures to defend our state against an invasion” of migrants.
Biden told reporters on Sunday that he hadn’t yet read the governor’s letter. He said on Twitter Sunday night that “our problems at the border didn’t arise overnight” and “won’t be solved overnight.”
“But, we can come together to fix this broken system. We can secure the border and fix the immigration process to be orderly, fair, safe, and humane,” Biden added.
In a blow to his administration and a victory for the Republicans, the U.S. Supreme Court last month blocked the discontinuation of Title 42, pandemic-era legislation that allows asylum seekers at the U.S. border to be immediately expelled to Mexico, without recourse to legal hearings.
Following his visit to El Paso, the U.S. president flew to the Felipe Ángeles International Airport (AIFA) north of Mexico City, where he was greeted by President López Obrador.
“I welcomed President Joe Biden at AIFA and accompanied him in his vehicle to his hotel. He will be with us at the National Palace tomorrow. We will continue talking about matters of interest for our people and nations,” López Obrador wrote on social media.
The two presidents will be joined in the capital by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a three-day North American Leaders Summit, at which immigration as well as energy and trade will be among the issues up for discussion. López Obrador and Biden will also hold bilateral talks.
First Lady Jill Biden, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and presidential climate envoy John Kerry arrived at the Mexico City International Airport earlier on Sunday.