President Biden took a walk Sunday along the border wall in El Paso, Texas, getting his first up-close look at the boundary that has bedeviled his administration with two years of unprecedented chaos and saying the solution is more money.
Accompanied by Border Patrol agents, Mr. Biden reviewed the 18-foot barrier that separates the U.S. from Mexico — a project begun in the 1990s but which gained prominence under his predecessor, former President Trump.
Mr. Biden also visited a border crossing in El Paso, watching officers train on how to sniff out drugs or illegal immigrants being driven into the U.S.
Asked what he learned about securing the border, Mr. Biden said it came down to money.
“They need a lot of resources. We’re going to get it for them,” he told reporters.
After the wall, Mr. Biden toured a migrant welcome center where the local government and charities work to ease the life of those who are caught and released by Homeland Security.
The president asked those running the facility what they needed from him “if I could wave the wand.”
They, too, said money.
Mr. Biden’s visit came three days after he announced a order security strategy.
His new plan applies a carrot-and-stick approach, offering a new pathway to the U.S. to 30,000 migrants a month from Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua, but threatening to immediately oust those who don’t come via that new path.
Returning those migrants to Mexico takes a page directly out of Mr. Trump’s playbook.
The new strategy finally gives Mr. Biden some answers to point to, and it cleared the way for him to be able to finally visit the border after two years of prodding by Republicans.
Those GOP lawmakers were not mollified.
Indeed, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott greeted Mr. Biden at the foot of Air Force One with a letter blasting the president for how long it took him to get there, for his itinerary while on the ground, and for his overall approach to the border and immigration.
“Your visit to our southern border with Mexico today is $20 billion too little and two years too late,” Mr. Abbott, a Republican, wrote to the Democratic president.
“Even 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. This chaos is the direct result of your failure to enforce the immigration laws that Congress enacted,” he said.
The governor called on Mr. Biden to restart border-wall construction, which the president halted on his first day in office. He also urged Mr. Biden to dsignate the smuggling cartels as foreign terrorist organizations.
Mr. Abbott also said Mr. Biden’s new parole program is unlawful.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said Mr. Biden should have gone out of his comfort zone of glad-handing with border officials and talking with immigrant-rights advocates and instead visited small communities that have been swamped by the surge of illegal immigrants.
“If President Biden seriously wants to address the crisis his administration created, he needs to visit McAllen, Eagle Pass, Del Rio, and Laredo, and talk to the communities ravaged by crime, the ranchers who find bodies on their land, the Border Patrol who are overwhelmed, and the families who have lost loved ones due to cross-border drug trafficking,” Mr. Cruz said in a statement.
The president is getting just as cool a reception from erstwhile allies on the political left, with civil-rights groups and immigration activists blasting him for embracing Trump-style solutions.
They argued that only wealthier and better-connected migrants will be able to take advantage of the new parole program, because it requires migrants to have a sponsor in the U.S. already.
They also said shoving migrants back into Mexico leaves them vulnerable to abuse, and denies them the chance to make claims of protection in the U.S.
“These reckless policy decisions will exact a horrific human toll and leave a lasting stain on the President’s legacy,” said Melissa Crow, director of litigation at the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies.
The administration counters that its strategy can work and El Paso is proof.
It tried the carrot-and-stick approach in a trial run on Venezuelan migrants, who had been surging into the El Paso area late last year.
The administration also redeployed manpower to process migrants, catching and releasing some while expelling others faster.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who traveled aboard Air Force One with Mr. Biden, said illegal crossings in the area were running at about 2,000 a day in the middle of December. That figure has been cut to about 700 a day, he said.
Mr. Biden’s call Sunday for more money is part of his challenge to Congress.
He blames Republicans for refusing to consider a bill to legalize illegal immigrants already in the U.S., saying that legislation is necessary to clean the slate and start anew on immigration enforcement.
Mr. Biden, in his speech last week, also said GOP lawmakers blocked his request for billions of dollars in new money for the border.
That money, which Mr. Biden had requested as part of the 2023 spending bill Congress worked on last month, would have gone toward faster catch-and-release of illegal immigrants.
Republicans say the answer to the border isn’t more releases but faster removals and stiffer blockades to prevent people from arriving.
Mr. Biden did win approval of money in the 2023 bill to hire several hundred more Border Patrol agents.