Biden visited the border for the first time as critics condemned the migrant crackdown

The president will first make a brief stop in El Paso as migrants have reportedly been chased off the streets and arrested by agents

President Joe Biden will visit the US-Mexico border for the first time in nearly two years as commander in chief on Sunday, even as lawmakers and immigrant rights advocates widely condemn his administration's latest hardline response to the deepening humanitarian emergency there. .

Biden – who is scheduled to be in Mexico City this week for an international summit – will first make a brief stop in El Paso, recent ground zero for the ramifications of a US immigration system that he readily admits is deeply damaged.

The reliably blue border town in blood-red Texas has struggled for months to bring to justice the thousands of stranded migrants and asylum seekers, many of whom have little choice but to sleep on the streets in the cold, rain and squalor.

A White House spokesman said Friday that Biden would use his long-awaited appearance at the US southwest border to meet with local leaders, assess law enforcement operations, and speak with Customs and Border Protection officials on the ground.

They would not disclose whether their itinerary included time with asylum seekers affected by the dire situation, while migrants are reported to have been removed from the streets and arrested by border agents in the days leading up to their visit.

"The president is looking forward to seeing for himself what the border security situation is like, especially in El Paso," said John Kirby, the national security council's strategic communications coordinator, responding to concerns that Biden would land in a city that is now being cleared.

Biden's first trip to the US-Mexico border since his ascension to the country's highest office followed a record-breaking fiscal year of around 2.4 million migrant encounters there, amid a new normal of mass forced displacement due to regional instability, growing wealth gaps, climate disasters, and targeted persecution in countries all over the world.

It also comes just days after the administration announced new changes to policy regarding federal migration, which elicited an immediate and intense reaction from pro-immigrant organizations and progressive members of Biden's own party.

“For once, just once, I want to see this administration make the moral argument to the rest of the country that we need to implement an effective, humane, accessible, friendly, and compassionate system of protection at the border, said Dylan Corbett, executive director of the El Hope Border Institute. paso.

Conversely, Corbett denounced the government's new approach as a stronghold of "dangerous, ineffective and inhumane policies" and likened the strategy to "broken promises".

These latest policy developments, announced Thursday, include an even more severe crackdown on the US-Mexico border through increased use of expedited transfer, in which migrants are quickly deported without ever seeing a judge.

They are also expanding on a highly criticized Trump-era practice of allowing border authorities to quickly expel migrants and would-be asylum seekers back to Mexico or elsewhere, without even the opportunity to request asylum.

This controversial measure – which began amid the pandemic as a plea for public health legislation but has turned into a cynical immigration tool – will now be deployed to target Nicaraguans, Haitians and Cubans for expulsion to Mexico, following similar actions against Venezuela in October was followed by a significant decrease in the number of people from that country arriving at the US-Mexico border.

The Biden administration combined these enhanced deterrence mechanisms, in part, with the announcement of more legal pathways for at least temporary entry into the US for the small number of Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians, and Venezuelans who can afford to finance their own commercial travel, their own unexpired passports, and have someone in the United States willing to sponsor their application, among other requirements.

But critics are quick to point out that few of the forcibly displaced people in the world's most vulnerable can actually provide the wealth, resources and connections to fit those narrow criteria.

Detractors also expressed consternation and contempt at news that the Biden administration would advance new rules to further limit asylum eligibility, drawing comparisons between the Democratic president and his far-right predecessor.

"This week's policy announcements are completely out of touch with the true state of affairs of people seeking asylum, many of whom arrive at our borders fleeing threats that threaten their lives," said Melissa Crow, director of litigation at the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies. .

"It's deeply disturbing to hear the president assert that seeking asylum is legal, promise to create a safe and humane process at the border, and then turn around and announce policies that further undermine access to the US asylum process."

The implications of Biden's border strategy to date have been keenly felt in El Paso, where vulnerable Venezuelans and other nationals who fear being driven back to Mexico have begun evading US authorities and have been denied access to some of the city's shelters as a result.

Large crowds of migrants have languished in the streets of downtown El Paso and outside the city's Sacred Heart Church for weeks. Desperate mothers have to worry about their babies potentially freezing to death when the temperature drops.

Some of these people felt stranded, fearing that if they tried to leave town, they would encounter immigration officials at checkpoints and end up being detained or expelled. Others haven't even had a chance to take that risk, after immigration officials rounded up and detained dozens of them in recent days.

In chaotic footage obtained by NBC News, local police and border agents flooded the streets around the Sacred Heart Church shelter late Tuesday, sirens blaring, as they arrested an estimated 100 and 150 witnesses.

Experts warn the operation – so close to a place of worship – may in fact have violated the Department of Homeland Security's own guidelines, NBC News reported.

Similar moves downtown kicked out migrants who had been living near the local bus terminal late on Wednesday, according to media organization El Paso Matters.

"The cynic in me ponders the possibility that this is a purge meant to present El Paso in a certain light and the president's enforcement actions in a certain light," Lisa Graybill, vice president of law and policy at the National Immigration Law Center, told NBC. News.

But for Isabel Salcido, city representative for El Paso, Biden's journey is more about him finally giving testimony.

"This crisis will not go away," said Salcido. "We urgently need the help and leadership of Congress and the White House."

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