EL PASO — President Joe Biden toured El Paso for about four hours on Sunday, visiting the U.S.-Mexico border for the first time since taking office in the White House.
He was greeted by Gov. Greg Abbott upon arrival at the El Paso airport. Abbott has been a chief critic of Biden’s immigration policies and has frequently called on him to visit the border over the past year as the number of migrant arrests has broken records.
“The president who caused the chaos at the border needed to be here. It just so happens he’s two years and about $20 billion too late,” Abbott told reporters at the airport. “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. Also this is nothing but for show unless he begins to enforce the immigration laws that already exist.”
The two spoke briefly at the airport and parted ways. Abbott’s office said he was not invited to attend the rest of the president’s tour of El Paso. Asked about his conversation with Biden, Abbott told reporters, “He said he wanted to work with us on it.”
Biden’s office said the aim of 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.”
While in El Paso, Biden visited the Bridge of the Americas port of entry — which connects El Paso to Ciudad Juárez for tourists and commercial trade. The president will also visit the El Paso County Migrant Services Center. Biden will be joined by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas; Democratic U.S. Reps. Veronica Escobar of El Paso, Henry Cuellar of Laredo, and Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen; El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser; and El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego.
Biden made an unscheduled stop near an 18-foot-tall border fence along the border with Mexico, according to a pool report.
When asked by reporters what he learned during his trip to El Paso, he said, “They need a lot of resources. We’re going to get it for them.”
After his brief visit, he left for Mexico City. Biden is scheduled to meet with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the North American Leaders’ Summit on Monday and Tuesday.
The visit to the border for the president is politically fraught — as Republicans have accused Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris of neglecting border security.
As Biden visited the border city, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel held a press conference in the Rio Grande Valley with community leaders to criticize the president’s “disastrous border security plan and its effects on Texas’ border communities.”
“We’re in McAllen, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, where so much of this is happening, and President Biden has still never been here,” said McDaniel, standing alongside local officials. “So we wanted to make sure that we don’t forget this part of the state and allow him to do a photo op in El Paso and pretend that the problem is gone.”
Abbott, who has made border security a top priority of his administration and who initiated the building of a state-funded border wall, said on Fox News that the Biden administration did not reach out about the El Paso visit until Saturday night, when a staffer got an email inviting Abbott to greet Biden on the tarmac.
Abbott said he hand-delivered a letter to the president at the tarmac. The letter pinned the influx of migrants on the Biden administration’s open-border policies and demanded the president take a stricter approach in securing the border.
Biden said he hasn’t read it yet, according to a pool report.
Biden recently announced a set of new policies that would allow 30,000 migrants per month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela to enter the country and be able to work legally for up to two years, as long as they apply from their home country and can find someone to support them economically in the U.S.
At the same time, immigration agents would expand the use of the emergency health order known as Title 42 to expel the same number of migrants from those four countries to Mexico if they attempt to enter the U.S. illegally. According to the Department of Homeland Security, Mexico has agreed to accept up to 30,000 migrants a month from those countries under Title 42.
If more than that number are apprehended, immigration officials would process additional migrants under standard immigration laws, which could result in deportation and a five-year ban from being able to enter the country legally.
“What we’re trying to do is broadly incentivize, safe and orderly way, and cut out the smuggling organizations,” Mayorkas said during the flight to El Paso, according to a pool report. “So what what we’re trying to have is to incentivize them to come to the ports of entry instead of in between the points of entry.”
This story was published earlier by The Texas Tribune, a partner of the nonprofit States Newsroom network, which includes the Florida Phoenix.