WASHINGTON — For two years, Republicans have clamored for President Joe Biden to visit the border with Mexico. He finally did on Sunday — and it has brought no respite from allegations that his policies have triggered an unprecedented crisis of migration.
Instead of El Paso, he should have gone to South Texas, they said. He wasn’t there long enough. He averted his eyes from the worst of it, they said, condemning the visit as a half-hearted and long overdue recognition of a crisis of his own making.
Rep. Michael Burgess hit Biden for having the “ audacity to pose for photos by Trump’s border wall — which he defunded.”
No one was more scathing than Sen. Ted Cruz, who devoted his latest podcast to the president’s border visit Sunday afternoon.
“It’s about damn time,” he said, calling Biden’s visit “infuriating because he still doesn’t intend to fix the problem. He doesn’t care. This is 100% politics. This is 100% optics. This is to get his lapdogs in the corporate media just to say oh, now the border is fine. … It wasn’t a problem yesterday. But today it’s magically fixed.
“If he cared, he wouldn’t just go to El Paso. He’d come to the Rio Grande Valley” and meet with ranchers who regularly find dead migrants on their land, including women and children, the senator said. “This is an absolute crisis. And if the president cared at all, he would want to see … the human misery.”
Biden counseled patience.
“Our problems at the border didn’t arise overnight. And they won’t be solved overnight,” he said after leaving El Paso.
“Trust me, he is not blinded one bit,” said Rep. Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen, defending Biden’s visit. The congressman joined Biden in El Paso with fellow Democratic Reps. Veronica Escobar of El Paso and Henry Cuellar of Laredo.
“He got to see a very clear picture of what we’ve been dealing with on our border for many years, even before he ever came to office,” Gonzalez said in an interview after returning from the border. “And it’s not like he doesn’t know what’s going on already,” thanks to regular reports from lawmakers, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and others.
With Republicans accusing Biden of staging a shallow photo-op, Gonzalez countered that that’s exactly what Cruz and other Republicans have done for years, using the border as a backdrop to gin up votes and donations.
“It’s almost like they don’t want to fix it because it’s the gift that keeps on giving,” he said.
Gov. Greg Abbott has steered $4 billion in state funds to border security. He began sending bus loads of migrants to Washington last April as migration spiked, hoping to prod the White House to tighten the border.
On Sunday, he handed Biden a letter on the tarmac in El Paso reiterating his complaints and demands.
“This chaos is the direct result of your failure to enforce the immigration laws that Congress enacted,” it read. “On behalf of all Americans, I implore you: Secure our border by enforcing Congress’s immigration laws.”
Gonzalez was standing nearby as Abbott and Biden spoke.
“Tell me where the results are of all these billions in taxpayers dollars that he’s put on the border? … It’s nothing but talking points for his next election,” he said of Abbott. “That’s a perfect, perfect example of someone who was there for a photo op and political purposes.”
In El Paso, Biden spoke with law enforcement, local officials and nonprofit leaders who work with migrants.
“He was able to talk to us, learn from us,” Gonzalez said. “He’s open-minded to tweaking the ideas he has and improving them. I don’t see that for people who come down here for just a political photo ops” — including many, he said, from districts with higher crime rates than exist along the border.
From El Paso, Biden flew to Mexico City for two days of meetings with the leaders of Mexico and Canada.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the border tour informed conversations with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador about ways to curb the flow of fentanyl and migrants.
“It gave him a more granular view of something he very deeply understood at a policy level, but there’s just no substitute for being able to have the engagement with those service providers on the front lines,” Sullivan said.
Last week, Biden announced a carrot-and-stick policy aimed at easing pressure at the border, allowing 30,000 asylum seekers a month from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti, but barring anyone who showed up first at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Cruz described the new apply-from-home app as a way to make it easier than ever for migrants to enter the U.S.
“They want to release people faster. They want to put in place the most efficient logistical network ever seen,” Cruz said, mocking Biden as “travel agent” in chief.
The two-term senator has hosted GOP colleagues at the border, sometimes posting video of immigrants brazenly crossing the river in view of senators and Border Patrol agents.
“I’ve been down there and had multiple groups of illegal immigrants turn themselves in to me. They’re just they look for the first American they can find to turn themselves in, because they know Joe Biden will get them where they want to go,” he said on his podcast.
On one tour with 19 senators, Cruz said, “We encountered a dead body floating in the river,” one of roughly 800 migrant deaths last year. “He is literally creating a line of body bags. And yet Joe Biden can’t be bothered to look at the people his policies are killing.”
Other Texas Republicans were just as scathing.
“Biden’s dog-and-pony show is nothing but a box-checking exercise combined with propaganda. It will do nothing to stop the flood at our border,” said Rep. Chip Roy.
Rep. Brian Babin called the visit “a complete waste of time. He must be held accountable for overseeing the worst border crisis in history.”
While Biden was at the western tip of the state, Republican National Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel was far downriver in Mission with former Rep. Mayra Flores, who lost to Gonzalez in November.
McDaniel blasted Biden for overlooking South Texas, and for a visit that she said was too brief to compensate for two years of misguided policies.
“Two hours in El Paso is not solving any real problems,” she told reporters.
Biden actually spent six hours in El Paso — still not enough to satisfy adversaries, among them his predecessor.
“So interesting to see that people are talking about the Border,” Donald Trump said in a prepared statement Tuesday, boasting that in the 2016 campaign when he vowed to build a wall, “I was the only one talking about it, and then in 2020, there was nothing to talk about because … I fixed it. It’s amazing what has happened in two years.”
Gonzalez took issue with the charge that Biden averted his eyes from the worst of the border situation, because the epicenter shifted away from South Texas in the last year.
“El Paso is dealing with what we did in the Rio Grande Valley a few years ago,” he said.