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After landing at the El Paso International Airport Sunday afternoon, President Joe Biden shook hands with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, an outspoken Republican critic of the Biden administration.
On the tarmac, Abbott handed the president a letter, published Sunday by Abbott’s office, which stated that “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.”
But outside of the Sacred Heart Church in Downtown El Paso, there were about 300 people – recent migrant arrivals – living in a makeshift camp along the sidewalk. Many said they were hoping the visiting president would see them, so he could have understood more clearly the difficulties of their lives as migrants.
After realizing the president would not be driving through the crowded downtown streets where the migrants were staying, many said they felt dejected.
“I think they don’t want to give us help. If they wanted to help us, the president would be here,” said Rose Tortoza, a 27-year-old Venezuelan woman who was among the migrants. “I know we’re here illegally and I’m sorry for doing that. But our desperation is to the point where we fear for our lives,” she said.
Two El Paso teenagers, who were not part of any aid agency or nonprofit, were at the site as a way of showing support for the people who had migrated there.
“They’re afraid to leave because they’ll be caught. We would like the president to help them,” said 17-year-old Jacqueline Guerrero. “The ones that are here, and everyone who is an immigrant, they are trying to work hard to help their family. We really want the president to see what’s happening. They are living here because they need help, and they need freedom, that’s all they want.”
Her younger sister Jeraldyne, 15, added: “All of them deserve a chance to work. They’re human beings. They don’t deserve this.”
Many of the migrants have already found work in other parts of the country, and have a place to live, but are forced to stay in El Paso out of fear of being picked up by immigration, and being forced back into Mexico.
“I spent four months on the road, from Venezuela. I crossed eight countries. I have found work and a place to stay. But I have no papers to be able to leave,” said Richard Piccone, a 32-year-old from Venezuela. “At this point, after having come all this way, to just be taken back? It would be a waste. So much hardship to get this far, and then to lose all that, to go back to Mexico? That place is tough. I’m not joking, it’s tough,” he said.
Ender Acosta, a man from Venezuela, said he understood that some people in the United States did not want immigrants moving into the country.
“Some people want us here. Some people don’t. I can understand those who don’t. I’m sure they haven’t seen so many people from other countries just living here on the street,” he said. “They are people who live stable lives. And that is understandable. All of us from all these different countries, we all have a conscience, and we are all trying to serve as good representatives of our country.”
Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, in a press conference held after the president left, said that the immigration numbers in El Paso and other border communities are a result of “a western hemispheric refugee crisis of historic proportions.
“We need to recognize that as a nation we have really neglected the Western Hemisphere diplomatically, in terms of building relationships and cooperation, and in terms of making investments in helping build democracies and helping our neighbors. And all of that has impacted this day,” she said.
Republican Party of New Mexico Chairman Steve Pearce, in a statement Sunday afternoon, called Biden’s visit “simple political theater” and said it was clear his administration “won’t admit there’s an ongoing crisis at the border.”
“His visit is a phony, arbitrary piecemeal solution to what’s become an unprecedented catastrophe under his watch,” Pearce said.