EL PASO, Texas – President Joe Biden inspected a busy port of entry along the US-Mexico border on Sunday, his first visit to the region after two years in office as Republicans implored him to go soft on border security. Gave hammer while the number of migrants crossed. Spiral.

Biden watched in El Paso as border officials searched vehicles carrying drugs, money and other contraband. In a sign of deepening political tensions over immigration, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott handed Biden a letter upon his arrival saying the “chaos” at the border was a “direct result” of the president’s failure to enforce federal laws.

Biden plans to spend a few hours in the city, which is currently the largest corridor for illegal crossings, in large part for Nicaraguans fleeing repression, crime and poverty in their home country. They are among immigrants from four countries subject to accelerated removal under new rules implemented last week by the Biden administration, which drew strong criticism from immigration advocates.

The president met with border officials to discuss immigration as well as the growing trafficking of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, which are driving the skyrocketing numbers in the US.

Biden was scheduled to visit the El Paso County Migrant Services Center and meet with non-profit and religious groups that support immigrants coming to America. It was not clear whether Biden would speak to any migrants.

Biden’s announcement on border security and his visit to the border are aimed at reducing political noise and blunting the impact of upcoming investigations into immigration promised by House Republicans. But any lasting solution will require action by an increasingly divided Congress, where several attempts in recent years to enact sweeping changes have failed.

From El Paso, Biden was to head south to Mexico City, where he and the leaders of Mexico and Canada will gather for a summit of North American leaders on Monday and Tuesday. Immigration is among the items on the agenda. The challenge facing the US on its southern border requires cooperation among many countries, a sign that diplomacy will matter as much as internal US policies.

El Paso police officers tased and arrested two Venezuelan migrants at the camp site outside Sacred Heart Church in downtown El Paso, Texas, on Sunday.

In El Paso, where migrants congregate at bus stops and parks before making the trip, Border Patrol agents have increased security ahead of Biden’s visit.

“I think they’re trying to send a message that they’re going to be checking people’s documented status more consistently, and if you’re not processed they’re going to take you,” Annunciation House Support Group said Ruben Garcia of El Paso.

Migrants and asylum seekers fleeing violence and persecution have increasingly found that safety in the United States is primarily available to those who have the money or the financial savvy to find someone to provide for them.

Jose Natera, a Venezuelan migrant in El Paso who hopes to seek asylum in Canada, said he has no prospects of finding a US sponsor and is now reluctant to seek asylum in the US because he fears being deported to Mexico Is.

Mexico is “a terrible country with crime, corruption, cartels and even the police come after you,” he said. “They say people who think of entering illegally won’t have a chance, but at the same time I don’t have a sponsor. … I came to this country to work. I didn’t come here to play.”

The number of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border has increased dramatically during Biden’s first two years in office. There were more than 2.38 million stops during the year ended September 30, the first time the number topped 2 million. The administration has struggled to crack down on the crossings, reluctant to take similar tough measures as the Trump administration.

The policy changes, announced last week, are Biden’s biggest move yet to crack down on illegal border crossings and will turn away thousands of migrants coming to the border. And 30,000 migrants per month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela will have a chance to come to the US legally as long as they travel by plane, get a sponsor and pass a background check.

The US will also turn back migrants who do not seek asylum, first to the country they traveled through on their way to the US. -Scheduled date and time.

Migrants prepare to spend the night on a sidewalk or inside an idling city bus trying to stay warm by camping outside the Sacred Heart Church in downtown El Paso, Texas, late Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023.

Migrants prepare to spend the night on a sidewalk or inside an idling city bus in an attempt to stay warm, camping outside the Sacred Heart Church in downtown El Paso, Texas, late Saturday. About 300 migrants have taken refuge on footpaths, some of them afraid to seek more formal shelters amid new restrictions to crack down on illegal border crossers.

Andres Leighton / Associated Press

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters on Air Force One that the administration was trying to “in a safe and orderly way encourage and dismantle trafficking organizations”, adding that the policies were “not restrictive at all”. But there is an effort to protect migrants. The trauma that trafficking can create.

The changes were welcomed by some, especially leaders in cities where the influx of migrants has been concentrated. But Biden was vilified by immigrant advocate groups, who accused him of following the former president’s measures. Administration officials disputed that characterization.

For all his international travel in his more than 50 years in public service, Biden hasn’t spent much time at the US-Mexico border.

The only trip the White House could point to was Biden’s drive during the 2008 presidential campaign. The center of the crossing was not what it is now.

President Barack Obama traveled to El Paso in 2011, where he visited border operations and the Paso del Norte international bridge, but was criticized for not returning later as tens of thousands of minors entered the US from Mexico.

Trump, who has made tough immigration a signature issue, has made several trips to the border. During one trip, he stopped at a small border station to inspect cash and drugs seized by agents. During a visit to McAllen, Texas, which was then the center of a growing crisis, he made one of his most oft-repeated claims that Mexico would pay to build a border wall.

American taxpayers footed the bill after Mexican leaders outright rejected the idea.

Associated Press writers Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Josh Bock in Washington contributed to this report.

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