The Republican governor of Texas delivered a frosty welcome to President Joe Biden in El Paso on Sunday, accusing him of opening the southern border to illegal immigrants and handing him a letter demanding that he take more action to tackle the crisis.
Gov. Greg Abbott blasted Biden’s visit — his first to the border as president — saying that the city had been cleaned up for his trip.
And he characterized the trip as ‘$20 billion too little and two years too late’ in a scathing description of Biden’s failure to control illegal migration.
‘Even the city you visit has been sanitized of the migrant camps which had overrun downtown El Paso because your administration wants to shield you from the chaos that Texans experience on a daily basis,’ he wrote
Gov. Greg Abbott welcomed President Joe Biden to El Paso, Texas, with a frosty letter demanding more action to tackle illegal immigration and accusing him of opening borders
Biden then met with US Customs and Border Protection police on the Bridge of the Americas border crossing between Mexico and the US in El Paso
Biden touched down in the border city around midday in what officials hoped was a chance to underscore his commitment to tackling illegal immigration.
Republicans have used record numbers of illegal arrivals to bludgeon the Biden administration during the past two years.
But any slight hopes that they might welcome the president’s attention to the issue quickly evaporated as Abbot could be seen on the asphalt handing a letter to the president.
‘Under your watch … America is suffering the worst illegal immigration in the history of our country,’ it says.
‘Your open-border policies have emboldened the cartels, who grow wealthy by trafficking deadly fentanyl and even human beings.’
He urged Biden to resume building the border wall that was begun under President Donald Trump.
And he said the Biden administration must designate Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations.
‘When you finish the photo-ops in a carefully stage-managed version of El Paso, you have a job to do,’ added Abbott.
From the airport, Biden visited the Bridge of the Americas — actually a series of bridges connecting El Paso with the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez — for a close-up look at the border and a bustling port of entry.
He watched border officers demonstrate how they search vehicles for drugs, money and other contraband.
A yellow Labrador was shown detecting fruit and meat in a vehicle, before a chocolate Labrador retrieved what appeared to be a package of drugs from another car.
As he toured the port of entry, a sign reading, ‘Bienvenido a Mexico,’ could be seen on the far side of the border
Abbott handed this letter to Biden at El Paso International Airport, ensuring a frosty welcome to Texas on Sunday as the president makes his first visit to the border since taking office
During his tour Biden was shown how border officers search vehicles for drugs, money and other contraband at the El Paso port of entry on the Bridge of the Americas
Biden was shown a fake battery that was used in an attempt to smuggle drugs into the U.S.
The number of migrants arriving in El Paso has dropped by some 70 percent since a peak in December, according to the White House
However, a series of camps was cleaned out by border agents last week ahead of the visit
Earlier Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents 18,000 agents, also said the visit was little more than a stunt.
‘You’re barely — from wheels down to wheels up — there three hours,’ he told DailyMail.com. ‘You’re barely going to get the scope of what is happening.’
He said his members had waited two years for a chance to explain to the president that the surge in illegal crossings meant they spent all their time on paperwork rather than protecting the border from drug smugglers and criminals.
Locals say Biden will not even see the worst of the problems they face, after border agents cleared out migrant camps.
En route to El Paso, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the number of people crossing the border had also dropped from its December peak.
‘The number of people attempting to cross the border unlawfully in El Paso is now down by over 70 percent And that has been since mid December,’ she said.
The presidential motorcade drives beside the border wall during Biden’s Sunday visit
The end of the year brought a surge in migrant arrivals to coincide with what was expected to be the end of Title 42, and its tough restrictions. El Paso declared an emergency
But on Saturday, the same streets had no sign of the migrants who had camped there
In the run-up to the visit, Biden said it was vital to expand legal immigration while limiting illegal immigration.
‘Our border communities represent the best of our nation’s generosity and we’re going to get them more support while expanding legal pathways for orderly immigration and limiting illegal immigration,’ he tweeted on Sunday.
Border officials detained a record 2.2 million migrants in the last full fiscal year.
And the issue has been used by Republicans to attack Biden throughout his presidency, accusing him of opening the country’s borders.
Biden on Thursday launched plans to block Cuban, Haitian and Nicaraguan migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, expanding the nationalities of migrants who can be sent back to Mexico.
Combined with the visit to El Paso, one of the crossing hotspots, supporters say it demonstrates that he is serious about tackling the problem.
Some opponents have grudgingly conceded the benefits of the trip.
Border agents’ union were dismissive of the visit to a cleaned-up El Paso in a Friday tweet
The Texas National Guard deployed along the border in El Paso at the end of last year. They are still there and have set up two miles of extra fencing with razor wire
Officials say their presence has forced migrants away from El Paso as they look to cross into the U.S. from Mexico, although numbers have dwindled anyway as they always do in January
John Cornyn, one of the state’s two Republican senators, said: ‘He must take the time to learn from some of the experts I rely on the most, 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 crisis.’
But Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, said it was nothing more than a publicity stunt.
‘Since day one of his presidency, Joe Biden has put drug smugglers and human traffickers before American families, allowing deadly fentanyl to pour across the border, and abandoned our brave Border Patrol agents,’ she said.
‘Simply put: Biden’s visit is nothing more than a photo op.’
The visit attracted controversy even before it began when it emerged last week that city authorities had begun clearing migrant camps
Areas that had once teemed with illegal arrivals around the Greyhound Bus station were eerily quiet on Saturday, a day before Biden’s visit.
‘I think they’re trying to send a message that they’re going to more consistently check people’s documented status, and if you have not been processed they are going to pick you up,’ Ruben Garcia of the Annunciation House aid group told the Associated Press.
Biden was also due to visit the El Paso County Migrant Services Center and meet with nonprofits and religious groups that support migrants arriving to the U.S.
Despite his almost 50 years of public service, Biden has been a rare visitor to the southern border.
The White House could only point to a brief swing past it in 2008 when he was campaigning for president.
He dispatched Vice President Kamala Harris to El Paso in 2021, but she was criticized for visiting at a time when other sectors of the border were seeing more problems.
On Thursday Biden announced he was expanding Trump-era restrictions to rapidly expel Cuban, Haitian, and Nicaraguan migrants caught illegally crossing the southern border.
Instead, the U.S. will accept 30,000 people per month from those three countries, as well as Venezuela, so long as they arrive legally.
This is what Biden would have seen in mid-December when crowds crossed the Rio Grande river that separates the two countries and handed themselves in to border patrols
Migrant crossings at the southwest border have increased significantly in 2022
It represents an attempt both to head off Republican criticism that it has allowed record numbers to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, and to address concerns from within the Democratic Party that Biden has been too slow to shake off Trump-era restrictions that prevent those in need from seeking asylum.
The administration is preparing for the end of Title 42, a public health regulation that allows the expulsion of migrants before they can claim asylum in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Yet the proposals immediately triggered anger on both sides, with Republicans saying it was too little, too late and some Democrats saying it expanded restrictions imposed by President Donald Trump.
Even in announcing the plan, Biden acknowledged that it was far from perfect.
‘The actions we’re announcing today will make things better … will make things better but will not fix the border problem completely,’ he said.
After El Paso, Biden flies on to Mexico City, where will meet with the leaders of Canada and Mexico for a North American leaders summit. Immigration will be on the agenda.