Biden confronts a major political liability as he seeks assistance on immigration

Biden confronts a major political liability as he seeks assistance on immigration

Mexico City CNN –

President Joe Biden rode high into the new year: His political party far exceeded expectations in the midterm elections after a string of legislative victories, inflation appeared to finally be easing, and the first days of 2023 exposed what the president himself called ” shameful”. drama and infighting within the ranks of the Republican Party.

But Biden’s first business trip abroad this year — a two-night visit to Mexico City after a brief stop in the border city of El Paso, Texas, on Sunday afternoon — is forcing the president to confront an unresolved political problem. easy or fast. : A record increase in immigrant crossings at the US southern border under his watch.

Both stops underscore Biden’s predicament: While he’s blamed for record immigration, it’s a problem he can’t solve on his own. He will ask Congress and the US’s neighbors in the region, namely Mexico, to step up as well.

The visit to El Paso on Sunday — hastily confirmed by the White House days after details of the Mexico City trip were announced — took Biden to a city that perhaps, more than any other, has come to symbolize ground zero of the immigration conundrum he faces. his administration. Images of asylum seekers flooding into the border town and stories of strained resources have haunted the Biden White House as the GOP calls on the president to visit the area and see the problem for himself.

The White House resisted those calls for months, but advisers realized that the issue was becoming a growing political liability and that there was a risk that the absence of a presidential visit could take on a larger life.

But the few hours Biden spent on the ground in El Paso further underscored the delicate and potentially fraught optics of such a visit. The president spent most of the visit focusing on border security efforts and meeting with border enforcement personnel. But when he stopped at a migrant shelter in the city, reporters on the ground saw no migrants during the visit, nor along the convoy’s roads throughout the afternoon.

Asked to explain the thinking behind Biden visiting this specific immigrant reception center and ultimately not meeting or interacting with any immigrants there, a senior administration official told CNN, “There was just no one at the center.” when he arrived. Quite by accident. They didn’t have any today.”

But when asked why Biden did not appear to see or meet with migrants, the White House told reporters Monday that the president wanted to focus on groups “that are providing essential services to migrants.”

“I think from his perspective, where he really wanted to focus, those groups that we’re supporting that are providing essential services to migrants,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters in Mexico City, describing non-governmental organizations, community leaders. and faith-based leaders with whom the president met.

“What he was really looking for on this trip to the border was a deeper insight into the real practices of how US program dollars and elements of US migration policy will deliver the services needed, that’s where he wanted to focus the attention of his. . That’s what he was able to do,” Sullivan added.

After all, Biden’s long-awaited first visit to the US southern border as president — which the White House predicted would be about “seeing for himself what the border security situation looks like” — saw him leave Texas without seeing the worst of the humanitarian crisis. Local elected officials and advocates have been warning for weeks.

Nor did the president make any remarks, formal or informal, that could serve to advance his immigration position or to refute any of the criticism he has faced on the issue.

In Mexico, where Biden will attend a summit of North American leaders, the issue of migration will loom large. Mexico recently agreed to accept up to 30,000 migrants a month from four countries who try to enter the US and turn back.

And no immigration-related issue has confounded the administration more than Title 42 — the controversial policy enacted under former President Donald Trump to curb the spread of Covid-19 that has allowed border agents during the Biden presidency to continue removing rapidly migrants trying to enter the US.

While the White House has repeatedly said it supports ending Title 42 — a policy that many Democrats and immigration advocates have described as inhumane — that public position has obscured a much more complicated reality: The eventual expiration of Title 42 is guaranteed. exacerbate what is already a serious problem on the US southern border.

Ahead of Biden’s visit to El Paso, the administration unveiled its most aggressive effort yet to discourage immigrants from crossing into the U.S. illegally — a program that effectively expands Title 42 by cracking down on people seeking asylum at the Mexican border.

The approach is “humane,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby insisted to reporters on Friday.

Human rights advocates and organizations widely disagreed — the announcement drew swift and harsh condemnation, highlighting the impossible task for the Biden White House to both appear tough on the border and prioritize humanitarian concerns.

The latest round of border policy announcements also didn’t sit well with some Democratic lawmakers, who expressed frustration in a private phone call with top Biden officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas — underscoring the challenge ahead of the administration in trying to appease both sides. row.

The administration’s recent policy targeting Nicaraguans, Cubans and Haitians underscores the importance of the relationship between the United States and Mexico when trying to manage migration. Expanding Title 42 to include more nationalities, for example, was largely dependent on the Mexican buyout since it would mean more people coming back to the country.

Homeland Security officials have repeatedly emphasized coordination with Mexico in efforts to stem the flow of migration at the US-Mexico border through patrols and information sharing.

“The ousted president will hope to revive those discussions,” a Homeland Security official told CNN.

During their meeting last July, Biden described the relationship as “strong and productive.”

While the US and Mexico have worked together on the issue, Biden and López Obrador have a strained relationship at times. This spilled over into public opinion when López Obrador chose to skip the Summit of the Americas – a gathering hosted by the United States – last year citing the US decision not to invite Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela.

López Obrador also recently criticized the US for “endorsing” the overthrow of former Peruvian President Pedro Castillo. Last month, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US “categorically” opposes “any act that undermines democracy” and “contradicts Peru’s constitution” after Castillo tried to dissolve the Peruvian Congress. Castillo was subsequently impeached.

Experts say López Obrador has tried to assert himself as an equal with the US, a dynamic that could be at play during the summit.

“AMLO will try to reassert himself. He understands that the US has power. It flirts with deferment rhetorically, but it doesn’t go over the edge,” said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute, noting that this is still a functional relationship.

Just days before the summit, where drug trafficking is expected to be among the topics of discussion, Mexican authorities arrested Ovidio Guzmán, the son of notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán.

Asked what steps the U.S. would like Mexico to take to reduce fentanyl trafficking and smuggling, Kirby said he didn’t want to “advance the summit” but applauded the arrest of Guzman, a key fentanyl trafficker.

“This is no small achievement by the Mexican authorities and we are certainly grateful for that. So we’ll continue to work with them step by step to see what we can do together to limit that flow, but it’s important,” Kirby said.

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