“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.”
— Rose Tortoza, Venezuelan migrant in El Paso
When high-ranking officials visit trouble spots, it is customary for them to actually view the trouble. But two years into his administration — and decades into the country’s failed immigration policy — Biden chose photo ops over substance, essentially bypassing the humanitarian crisis in El Paso. On Sunday, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott handed Biden a letter that said “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.” El Paso’s Mayor Oscar Leeser is a Democrat; we would expect he was part of the “sanitation” Abbott mentioned and that was reported on by national news outlets.
Yet, just three weeks ago, Leeser issued a disaster declaration citing a “humanitarian, security, and economic crisis resulting from mass migration through El Paso.”
According to the Associated Press, in Biden’s almost four-hour “highly controlled” visit, he “encountered no migrants except when his motorcade drove alongside the border and about a dozen were visible on the Ciudad Juárez side. His visit did not include time at a Border Patrol station, where migrants who cross illegally are arrested and held before their release,” or Downtown El Paso, where hundreds of migrants are sleeping on the frigid sidewalks. And El Paso isn’t alone.
Immigration has been a mess for years and a growing one in recent months, as many fleeing violence or looking for economic opportunities have traveled to our southern border with the hope for an end to Title 42, a pandemic regulation that lets the country automatically return asylum seekers to Mexico. Last month the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Title 42 must remain in place until it renders a decision on its use. The high court will hear arguments in February; a final ruling could come in early summer.
In the meantime, we need resources to more quickly determine who should be allowed to remain while waiting for an asylum hearing — and those migrants should be able to join families or sponsors. While we do not support open borders, it is inhumane to migrants to expect thousands to live, eat and sleep on the streets and places an unacceptable burden on those who live in the border communities.
Biden recently enacted rules that subject migrants from four countries — Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela — to quick expulsion but also allow 30,000 migrants per month from those countries to come to the U.S. legally as long as they travel by plane, get a sponsor and pass background checks. Good, yet there are millions of people who have crossed and/or tried to cross in the past year. They are living in the shadows or on border city sidewalks while Congress continues its decades-long tradition of bipartisan inaction on immigration.
There’s also the criminal element, exemplified Jan. 5 when a Border Patrol agent was shot in his bulletproof vest by someone inside a suspected smuggling vehicle on N.M. 146, just north of Hachita. Currently, criminals hide in plain sight among the crush of migrants. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says the Biden administration is trying to “incentivize a safe and orderly way and cut out the smuggling organizations.” Unfortunately, while the president recently announced “do not, do not just show up at the border,” the fact is millions already have.
It bears repeating that at our core we are a nation of immigrants, and that our president should have taken a portion of his border visit to speak with some of the migrants like Guillermo Perez from Costa Rica, who says “I wish the government of the U.S. would see that we sincerely need help. I wish they could understand that if we would return to our countries, we will be punished, believe me that we will be punished. My hope is to enter and to live better, to live like a person, to work, and to give no problems to the government.”
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.