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President Biden inspects the port of entry at the United States-Mexico border.

EL PASO, TX – On Sunday, President Biden inspected a busy port of entry along the US-Mexico border, his first trip to the region after two years in office, as Republicans chastise him for being soft on border security while the number of migrants crossing continues to rise.

Biden sat in on a demonstration by border officers in El Paso of how they search vehicles for drugs, money, and other contraband. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott handed Biden a letter upon his arrival that said the “chaos” at the border was the “direct result” of the president’s failure to enforce federal laws, highlighting the deep political divisions over immigration.

The city is currently the busiest crossing point for illegal immigrants, owing largely to Nicaraguans fleeing repression, crime, and poverty in their home country. They are among four countries’ migrants who are now subject to immediate deportation under new rules enacted by the Biden administration last week, which drew harsh criticism from immigration advocates.

The president met with border officials to discuss migration as well as the increased trafficking of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, which is fueling an increase in overdose deaths in the United States.

Biden’s announcement on border security, as well as his visit to the border, are aimed in part at defusing political tensions and dampening the impact of upcoming immigration investigations promised by House Republicans. However, any long-term solution will necessitate action by a deeply divided Congress, where multiple attempts to enact major changes have failed in recent years.

Biden planned to travel south from El Paso to Mexico City, where he and the leaders of Mexico and Canada will meet for a North American leaders summit on Monday and Tuesday. Immigration is one of the topics on the agenda. The challenge that the United States faces on its southern border necessitates cooperation among multiple countries, indicating that diplomacy will be as important as internal U.S. policies.

Border patrol agents have increased security in El Paso, where migrants congregate at bus stops and in parks before continuing their journey.

“I think they’re trying to send a message that they’re going to check people’s documented status more consistently, and if you haven’t been processed, they’re going to pick you up,” said Ruben Garcia of the Annunciation House aid organisation in El Paso.

Migrants and asylum seekers fleeing violence and persecution have increasingly discovered that protections in the United States are primarily available to those with money or the savvy to find someone to financially vouch for them.

During Biden’s first two years in office, the number of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border has increased dramatically. During the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, there were more than 2.38 million stops, the first time the figure surpassed 2 million. The administration has struggled to crack down on border crossings, hesitant to take harsh measures similar to those implemented by the Trump administration.

The policy changes announced this week are Biden’s most significant move yet to limit illegal border crossings, and they will turn away tens of thousands of migrants. At the same time, 30,000 migrants per month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Venezuela will be allowed to enter the United States legally if they travel by plane, find a sponsor, and pass background checks.

The United States will also turn away migrants who do not first seek asylum in a country they passed through on their way to the United States. Migrants are being asked to fill out a form on a phone app in order to visit a port of entry on a predetermined date and time.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters on Air Force One that the administration is attempting to “incentivize a safe and orderly way and cut out the smuggling organisations,” adding that the policies are “not at all a ban,” but rather an attempt to protect migrants from the trauma that smuggling can cause.

Some welcomed the changes, particularly leaders in cities where migrants had gathered. However, immigrant advocacy groups chastised Biden for adopting policies similar to those of the former president. Officials from the administration disputed that assessment.

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