President Joe Biden will visit the U.S.-Mexico border on Sunday for the first time since taking office nearly two years ago, tackling one of the most politically charged issues in the country as he prepares for a reelection bid.
Biden on Thursday announced fresh plans to block Cuban, Haitian and Nicaraguan migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, expanding the nationalities of migrants who can be expelled back to Mexico, and the visit to El Paso, Texas, isn’t expected to yield any new policy breakthroughs.
Instead, it is meant to demonstrate that the U.S. president is taking the issue seriously, stop nagging questions about when he plans to visit, shore up relations with border patrol, and potentially give him another chance to push Congress to pass new laws to fix a broken system.
However, Republicans’ newly assumed control of the House of Representatives essentially blocks prospects for any legislative fixes, leaving Biden with few good options.
“The trip is recognition that this is a serious issue, one with real hardships, but it’s also one that will only get solved with the help of Republicans, said Karen Finney, a Democratic consultant.
Republicans have continually used the border issue as a cudgel against Biden, blaming him for failing to crack down harder. And with a thin Republican majority in the House that gives the party’s hardliners greater clout, there is little hope for compromise.
Biden will meet at the border with local officials and community leaders, and assess border enforcement operations in El Paso, where the Democratic mayor declared a state of emergency last month, citing hundreds of migrants’ sleeping on the streets in cold temperatures and thousands being apprehended every day.
U.S. border officials apprehended a record 2.2 million migrants at the border with Mexico in the 2022 fiscal year that ended in September, though that number includes individuals who tried to cross multiple times.
Biden’s effort to try and crack down on the tide of migrants has drawn criticism from all sides. Human rights activists and some Democrats say the new restrictions are a retreat from Biden’s 2020 campaign promise to restore historical rights to asylum-seekers.
And while winning praise from some U.S. industry groups desperate to solve pressing labor shortages, the policy is likely to trigger legal challenges from both those who favor restricting immigration and advocates for asylum seekers.
Biden on Thursday did open legal, limited pathways into the country for Cubans, Nicaraguans and Haitians, while also calling on Congress to enact comprehensive reform, something the U.S. law-making body has failed to do for decades.
After the El Paso visit, Biden travels to Mexico to meet with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in talks that will also touch on immigration issues.
Republicans, furious about Biden’s reversal of some close-the-border policies of former President Donald Trump, have seized on record crossings, deaths of migrants and reports of fentanyl pouring across the border to demand the impeachment of Biden’s homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas.
Some pro-Trump Republican hardliners who finally helped elect Kevin McCarthy speaker on Saturday have pushed for zero cooperation with Democrats.
“It’s a problem that’s not going away, and he has to mitigate it or take it off the table in the upcoming election,” a senior Democrat told Reuters. “Biden needs to address the issue instead of letting opponents dominate the narrative.”
Biden sent Congress an immigration reform plan on his first day in office, but it has floundered amid opposition from congressional Republicans, who also blocked his request for $3.5 billion to beef up border enforcement.
Americans give Biden failing grades for immigration policy, polls show.
An average of polls gathered by Real Clear Politics shows 37% of the public disapprove of Biden’s handling of immigration, a number lower than his overall approval rating.
The issue has bedeviled presidents from both parties, Democrats note.
“This is not something that has popped up in the last two years. This has been 30 years in the making and a result of a mishmash of Democratic and Republican policies,” said Jennifer Holdsworth, a Democratic strategist.
“The electorate is tiring of the craziness and the talking points. They want serious solutions.”