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Sunday menudo and a presidential motorcade: El Pasoans brace for Biden’s visit

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Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press
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President Biden boards Air Force One on his way to El Paso, Texas on January 8, 2023.

As El Pasoans prepare for President Biden's first visit to the border, some say his trip won't have an immediate effect on the migrant crisis the city has been grappling with.

As Texas Republicans and immigration activists had plenty of criticism for President Biden ahead of his first visit to the border, El Pasoan Patty Apodaca was more intent on what was directly in front of her: a packed parking lot at one of the city’s famous menudo restaurants.

After finally finding a spot at the Good Luck Café Sunday morning, Apodaca shrugged and said she wasn’t that impressed with Biden’s visit, which comes weeks after El Paso saw tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants cross into the border city, straining local and federal resources.

“I think all the presidents are the same and they only do things for themselves,” she said in Spanish. “That’s what I think.”

After the cameras are gone and the streets are free from the congestion caused by the president’s motorcade, Apodaca said El Paso will continue as it always has. Migrants will keep coming, but that won’t be anything new to the Sun City.

“[Biden] shouldn’t have promised so much -- that’s why the situation is the way it is,” she said. “But everything will stay the same” afterward.

Several presidents have made stops in El Paso for campaign speeches or to stump for their allies, including Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. But Biden’s visit marks the second consecutive time a president will be in El Paso amid criticism and controversy. Former President Trump visited El Paso in August 2019 after a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in a racially motivated attack.

But El Pasoan Mario Soto said Biden’s visit shouldn’t politicize El Paso.

“I don’t see why it would put us in a bad light. We’re at the center of immigration and that’s just the way it is,” he said during a shopping trip at an east side mall on Sunday. “I feel like it’s the duty of the president whenever a big issue happens. It’s not anything heroic. I think it’s just something that they should do. You’re the president -- you should go to the place where big things are happening.”

Others see the visit in a more positive light. Gale Rollins, who moved to El Paso when her husband Greg was in the U.S. Army, said she thinks Biden’s visit falls in line with what she called the actions of a president who is taking care of business.

“I am really glad he’s coming. I think he’s doing a great job, and I am not frightened anymore about what’s going on in the world. He has everything under control,” she said, adding that she felt the country was more divided under Trump.

But she said Biden should have paid a visit sooner.

“I think he should have been here sooner because I don’t think that people should be sleeping on the street,” she said, referring to the hundreds of migrants who were forced to sleep on sidewalks in recent weeks after shelters and federal holding facilities were beyond capacity.

Like Soto, Greg Rollins said immigration will always be an issue in El Paso and Biden’s visit was a byproduct of that. But he didn’t criticize the timing of the visit.

“I think he’s just doing his job, and I don’t think he would necessarily come if there wasn’t a crisis. But I think it’s a good thing that he’s coming, just to bring more attention to what’s going on,” he said. “I don’t think it would have really made a difference or anything would have changed had he been here four weeks ago versus Sunday.”

Biden will be in El Paso for about three hours Sunday. His visit will include a tour of the Bridge of the Americas, a port that connects the city to Ciudad Juarez and is a major artery in the region’s trade network. He will also visit with shelter directors and will be joined by U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso and Vicente González, D-McAllen.

Advocates plead for change

Though some El Pasoans marked Biden’s visit as a routine matter of business for the president, immigrant rights advocates hope the visit will lead to a change in current policies. On Saturday several groups held a march and protest in support for the migrants that they say are only seeking a better life in the United States.

“If I had a chance to meet with the president, we’d tell him that he needs to open a venue for these families and immigrants and refugees that are caught in limbo,” Fernando Garcia, the executive director of the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights, told KTEP. “It seems the only option they’ve been offered so far is the expulsion and the deportation.”

Some hopes that Biden would embrace a more humane approach to immigration were dashed last week when the White House announced a new immigration policy.
As part of the multi-tiered plan, the Department of Homeland Security Secretary will allow 30,000 people from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti to be paroled into the country under current immigration laws as they seek relief in the United States.

But the administration will maintain the controversial Title 42 rule that allows for the immediate expulsion of migrants without the chance to apply for asylum. The U.S. will also continue to remove migrants under a separate rule called Title 8, which deports immigrants who weren’t paroled or otherwise allowed into the country. That includes migrants who evade detection and cross between official ports of entry.

On Sunday the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, said the only true solution to the immigration crisis is a comprehensive plan.
“When the conditions where they live have become so dangerous, uncertain and can no longer sustain them, they will do what we would do? Leave to seek safe haven,” Ray Mancera, LULAC national parliamentarian said in a statement. “And isn't that what the United States has historically stood for? No, we cannot have open borders, so a comprehensive immigration solution is imperative.”

At approximately 12:30 pm local time, Biden landed in El Paso and was accompanied by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, according to White House pool reports.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott greeted the president at the airport as television cameras captured Abbott delivering to Biden correspondence. In the letter Abbott ordered the president to take more action on the border and chastised Biden for taking so long to visit the area.

“Your visit to our southern border with Mexico today is $20 billion too little and two years too late,” Abbott said, referring to state monies that have been spent under Abbott’s controversial Operation Lone Star.

“Moreover, your visit avoids the sites where mass illegal immigration occurs and sidesteps the thousands of angry Texas property owners whose lives have been destroyed by your border policies.”

Abbott then listed several steps he thinks Biden should take, including resuming construction on a border wall, labeling cartels that smuggle migrants as terrorist organizations, and resuming immediate expulsion of all unauthorized crossers.

“On behalf of all Americans, I implore you: Secure our border by enforcing Congress’s immigration laws,” Abbott wrote.

KTEP's Angela Kocherga contributed reporting to this story.

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Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.