Biden confronts his border problem
President Biden on Sunday will make his first trip to the southern border since taking office, confronting the issue of immigration head on as it threatens to become a growing problem for him and his administration.
Biden had resisted making the trip despite months of pressure from Republicans and even some Democrats to do more to address the influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.
His travel to El Paso underscores the humanitarian and political problems the situation poses for the Biden administration as it deals with a House GOP majority intent on highlighting the border crisis and a looming 2024 campaign where the Republican nominee is likely to elevate immigration.
“It’s clear that immigration is a political issue that extreme Republicans are always going to run on,” Biden said Thursday at the White House. “But now they have a choice: They can keep using immigration to try to score political points or they can help solve the problem. They can help solve the problem and come together to fix the broken system.”
The White House this week unveiled a raft of measures aimed at getting the number of migrants crossing into the U.S. under control, while also using Biden’s upcoming travel to show they are taking the matter seriously.
The administration said Thursday that individuals from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti would be blocked from applying for asylum if they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without authorization. Officials also said they would propose a rule prohibiting migrants from applying for asylum in the U.S. if they did not first seek protection in a country they traveled through en route to the southern border.
And border officials will continue to enforce Title 42, a Trump-era policy that has been used for nearly three years to quickly expel migrants under the guise of it being a public health measure. Immigration advocates have criticized Biden’s continued use of the policy as inhumane, viewing it as a migration tool disguised as a public health measure. The Supreme Court is set to review its legality in the coming months.
Biden himself will visit the border on Sunday during a trip to El Paso. He will meet with front-line officials to hear more about the migrant situation, as well as what more can be done to block the flow of fentanyl and other drugs across the border.
The president will travel from Texas to Mexico for a two-day summit with North American leaders, where migration concerns are among the main topics expected to be discussed.
“This has been one of the biggest attacks from Republicans. ‘You haven’t even been to the border, you haven’t seen what’s happened,’” former White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on MSNBC. “He’s vocalized and said it’s a problem, it’s outdated, broken, we need to fix it. That’s why he put forward a plan on his first day. This allows him to say, ‘I have been to the border, I put forward a plan. What’s in your cupboard, what are you putting forward?’”
Republicans have for months called on Biden to visit the border, amplifying images of groups of migrants crossing into the U.S. and highlighting border patrol data that showed nearly 234,000 migrants were apprehended along the southern border in November 2022, the highest number ever recorded for the month of November.
The GOP-controlled House is in a state of disarray as Republicans struggle to elect a Speaker, which has in turn delayed the swearing-in of members and formation of committees.
But once the dust settles in the House, lawmakers have indicated immigration will be a key focus of their oversight powers. Some in the party have even floated the possibility of impeaching Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas over the surge in migrants, which has strained resources in communities at the border and around the country.
Even some Democratic leaders, such as New York City Mayor Eric Adams, have complained at times about the flow of migrants into their cities and states, arguing they do not have the resources to care for the scores of individuals arriving there after crossing into the U.S.
The at-times bipartisan criticism of Biden’s border policies underscores that it is a potential political vulnerability that the eventual 2024 Republican presidential nominee may seek to exploit. Some potential opponents of Biden’s got a head start on the matter this week.
Former President Trump, the only declared Republican in the 2024 field, released a video on Thursday outlining his plan to “wage war” on drug cartels in Mexico and crack down on the flow of drugs across the border. The plan includes proposals to send military assets to go after cartel leaders and ask Congress to pass legislation that would mandate the death penalty for drug smugglers and human traffickers.
“Biden’s open border policies are a deadly betrayal of our nation,” Trump said in the recorded statement. “When I am president, it will be the policy of the United States to take down the cartels, just as we took down ISIS and the ISIS caliphate and just as, unlike the situation we’re in today, we had a very strong border.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has emerged as the most formidable potential challenger to Trump for the party’s presidential nomination, used his inauguration address this week to attack Biden without naming him over his immigration policies.
The federal government “has recklessly facilitated open borders, making a mockery of the rule of law, allowing massive amounts of narcotics to infest our states, importing criminal aliens, and greenlighting the flow of millions of illegal aliens into our country, burdening communities and taxpayers throughout the land,” DeSantis said in prepared remarks.
The Florida governor made headlines last year when he arranged to fly migrants who had crossed the southern border to Martha’s Vineyard, a liberal sanctuary jurisdiction that has said it will not report those in the country illegally.
While Biden’s actions this week might insulate him from some criticism that he hasn’t addressed the border, he has acknowledged it’s an imperfect solution that won’t satisfy everyone. Already, numerous humanitarian groups have criticized Biden’s actions as making it more difficult for those fleeing violence to find safe harbor and accused him of doubling down on Trump-era policies.
Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) issued a joint statement on Friday expressing their disappointment in the new Biden policies, arguing “it will increase border crossings over time and further enrich human smuggling networks.”
Immigration has been among the most vexing issues for Congress for the last several years, with Democrats and Republicans unable to come to an agreement on how to both fund border security and deal with the flow of migrants into the country.
Despite that, the White House has repeatedly deferred to Congress when confronted with the number of crossings at the southern border, arguing it falls to lawmakers to overhaul a broken system.
Biden, speaking to reporters Thursday, reiterated that immigration policy will be a long-term issue, not a short-term fix.
“I’ll sit down with anyone who, in good faith, wants to fix our broken immigration system. And it’s hard. It’s hard on the best of circumstances,” Biden said. “But if the most extreme Republicans continue to demagogue this issue and reject solutions, I’m left with only one choice: to act on my own, do as much as I can on my own to try to change the atmosphere.”